From the president: Intergenerational value

Column by Thomas M. Becker

Years ago, David Faust, a Florida lawyer who served as chairman of Chautauqua’s board of trustees in the mid- to late 1980s, was stricken by cancer. David was a man of impeccable personal habits. He ate right, exercised, and enjoyed a loving marriage and two children he adored. He was a proud practitioner of the legal profession. He led the Institution’s board with grace and intelligence. He was the primary author of the first draft of Chautauqua’s Architectural and Land Use Regulations. And he was still in his 40s when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Late in his battle with the disease, a battle he conducted with confidence and steely resolve, it became clear that death was imminent. He made it clear to his wife, Sylvia, that he wanted to take his last breath at Chautauqua. A fellow board member immediately made an ambulance plane available and brought David home to Chautauqua.

David died on June 18, 1988. A funeral and memorial service was conducted at the Hall of Philosophy just prior to the opening of the season. He was 48 years old.

David connected Chautauqua with the very essence of his life. He found here a meaning that he knew exceeded his understanding but aligned with his faith. He had relationships built on deeper and more vulnerable exchanges. He took the time to revel in the beauty of life. He admired critical thinking and the elegance of a well-constructed argument.

David witnessed how Sylvia thrived in this environment and how his two children, John and Susan, were nurtured by the freedom of movement and grew through the exposure to the rich offerings of the Institution. He thought of Chautauqua as both a gift and an investment. His father, a minister, introduced the family to the Institution. David was very aware of the privilege he received by that introduction. He worked toward advancing the Institution’s capabilities to extend that privilege more broadly.

Penny Small is engaged now in some multiple of rounds of her fight with cancer. She and her husband Tom arrived at Chautauqua last week. Tom reports she is lifted by being here, being home.

Laurie Miller is in a fierce contest with a different form of cancer and arrived here last week to breathe in her Chautauqua tonic.

For Laurie and Penny, Chautauqua is grounding, an exercise of control amid the ravages of the inexplicable trajectory of disease. They find here the inner power to think beyond their condition and embrace the values of their lives so resonant in the layers of the physical, social, artistic, intellectual and spiritual tonality of this place.

Tom Small’s face was alight with joy as he talked about Penny’s resurgence of spirit upon returning to Chautauqua. Laurie wanted advice on the best two weeks in 2016 for her and Lori to return.

We opened this season’s theater productions with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. In the second act, Emily and the Stage Manager have the following exchange:

Does anybody realize life while they live it … every, every minute?

No. Saints and poets maybe … they do some.

I believe Chautauqua offers us the possibility to be the poets of our own lives. And I believe there is a conditional ingredient in that capability also articulated by Wilder at the conclusion of his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

At its best, Chautauqua is a love affair of enduring, intergenerational value.