Just imagine you are 86 years old, have emigrated to a favela (slum) in Brazil to become a social worker there, can barely walk even when using crutches, and travel back to the Netherlands once a year just to talk to students. By visiting a different university every day for a few weeks’ time, you hope to instil some courage in a younger generation.
Well, I can tell you from my own experience that such people actually exist. I recently bumped into one, right on Erasmus University’s campus.
I was revising in C-hall Building when I saw Klaas – obviously, I did not know his name at the time – address all sorts of students, one after the other. He interrupted students in whatever work they were doing to discuss the infinity of the universe with them. Since you don’t see an 86-year-old man systematically accost students at a university for a conversation about science every day, I grew rather curious. You must be highly motivated indeed to stroll around campuses on your own, using crutches, if you are not an elderly student taking a continuing education course. Therefore, I decided to turn the tables and address this man of my own accord.
When I asked him what he was doing, he turned out to be a very highly motivated individual indeed (and a wonderful chap to talk to, as well). You see, in addition to his work in the favela, Klaas is a writer, and he was visiting the university to draw some inspiration from the students. But he was mainly exploring the campus to build relationships – his scientific intermezzo on infinity was merely a bridge to some conversations. He hopes his intermezzos will inspire the students to whom he talks, too, by allowing them to reflect for a moment on the wonders of the universe, which constantly keeps growing, ad infinitum.
Klaas’ faith in young people means a lot to him. He could have elected many years ago to retire and live out his life collecting shells on a beach near Benidorm, but that is not what Klaas is all about. He will continue to build relationships as long as he lives, whether it be with Brazilians or with Dutch students. He is doing so because he believes the future may not be entirely devoid of hope, as long as people can learn to act a little more kindly to each other. And he is contributing to that future now, in his own way.
Thank you, Klaas. Thanks to you, I’m a little less fearful of the (distant) future, in which I may need crutches myself. Thanks to you, I know that even if that day ever comes, there will be plenty of reasons to keep walking.
Marnix ‘t Hart studies Philosophy at the EUR