Wednesday, March 21, 2012

leave this world better than how you found it

My brother Kurt was a brilliant research scientist who lived life full-force, without regret, and without hesitation. He seized every opportunity to do all he could to make a positive difference in his life, and positively impact those he loved, as well as those he had yet to meet. He was the perfect combination of strength and bravery, mixed with love and emotion. He was a mama’s boy in the best way possible, a guy’s guy, his wife’s best friend, and his sister’s fearless protector. He was what so many twice his age have yet to achieve. He was balanced and level-headed, a harder worker than anyone I have ever met, and a man who loved with all of his heart and soul. He lived his life well, full of passion, and lived it to the fullest. He lived his life right, and when it came time for his life to end, it ended by him being who he was - an athletic outdoor enthusiast.

I am publishing this post on what would have been my brother Kurt’s 34th birthday. For those close to him, there will always be a hollow cavity of emptiness that can never be filled now that we live in a world without him. One of his mentors whom I have built a friendship with said to me the other day that he sees that I have come to terms with acknowledging that void in the way that I am “making transformative changes in my own life, that in turn are making measurable differences for others.” He went on to say that he can “hardly think of a better or more appropriate way to ensure that all of the good things that Kurt embodied continue to influence the world in a positive way,” in reference to the work I am currently doing in Rwanda. Kurt left the world far too early - nobody should be deprived of reaching the age of 34, but I have to agree with his mentor that when Kurt left this world, it was a little bit better than how he found it. His mentor said that, “too many people who live many more years than Kurt did, cannot make the same claim.” Kurt made this world better through the work he did, and because of the person he was. His mentor acknowledged that now, inspired by that, I am most certainly doing the same.

The point of this post is simple – each of us needs to be cognizant of our ability to positively impact the world around us. Inspired by the messages conveyed to me in my exchange with Kurt’s mentor, coupled with the some of the inspiration that I have found here in Rwanda, I realize that each of us has the opportunity to make this world better than when we found it. To take that sentiment a step further, I would dare to say that not only do we have the opportunity, but each of us has an obligation to make this world better. Each of us has a certain immeasurable power, a talent, the ability to inspire, and the means to make a positive impact. If we use our gifts wisely, as a collective whole, we can have a considerable influence. Think of the ripple effect and how even just one small gesture, one small act of kindness can have a monumental effect on an individual, a group, a community, etc. It is amazing how a smile can brighten the darkest of days, how a soft touch on someone’s arm can convey that you truly care about them, and how an uncomplicated “hello” can make someone not feel so invisible. Small actions yield large dividends. In the Rwandan culture, it is considered rude to walk by someone and not acknowledge them. It does not have to be a complex conversational exchange, but a simple “muraho,” or “mwaramutse” will do just fine. The point is to acknowledge one another’s presence and existence in this world. In addition to acknowledging peoples’ presence around you, I also urge you to recognize your feelings and express them to those you hold near and dear to your heart. You have likely heard it time and time before, but if you love someone, don’t hesitate to tell them. Never be too busy, too preoccupied, or too rushed to get off the phone – speak up! A few years ago I started telling my brother that I loved him every time we spoke on the phone. Being the proud, strong man that he was, he always sort of scoffed at my silly exchange of words, but never failed to say, “I love you too, Boo.” Maybe somewhere in my capricious mind I knew that there would only be so many chances to tell Kurt “I love you,” I don’t know, but I have to say that I sure am glad I told him when I had the chance. Each time you have the opportunity to make a small, positive impact on this world through action or word, do not hesitate – do it, and do it with full gusto, full of life, full of passion, and full of meaning. Don’t waste your life, don’t waste the moments, don’t waste your love.

This week in my Village in Rwanda, the first year students chose inspirational people, after which their houses will be named. It is quite a process, involving many hours of research, debate, and discussion. Everyone from Steve Jobs to Mother Theresa to Dr. Livingstone was discussed. One of the boys who is quite close to me asked what I would name my house, and who my inspirational figure would be. Without hesitation, I said my brother Kurt.

I have always looked up to my big brothers and fought to achieve even a slice of their success in life, which for the Frankel boys, is plentiful. In a family full of direct, goal-oriented brothers, I am the whimsical, free spirited sister who has always chosen to take the path less traveled, and has regularly opted to create my own path through the jungle. To think that I am even coming close to impacting the world in a similar manner to the many ways Kurt influenced his world, is breathtaking. He is my inspiration, and if you are searching for someone to emulate, someone to motivate you and give you an incentive to make a positive difference, feel free to share my inspiration and think of Kurt.


  1. Barrett,
    I am a friend of Stevie Barrett. (My kids affectionately call her Aunt Stevie.)I read your blog regularly. This entry was so moving. I was so saddened when Stevie shared the loss of your brother with me. Your writing is a wonderful tribute to him. I hope to keep the message in my heart! Thank you! And my daughter Taylor is hoping to study abroad in Kenya next spring so I share your blog with her as well. Stay safe and continue to enjoy the journey!
    Betsy Hinton

  2. Beautiful Barre. I never new your brother, but he sounds like an amazing man. Your blog, and this post especially, continue to inspire me to seek my true path. Hopefully I can make such a difference someday.

  3. Kurt was a wonderful person and an inspiration to us all. I loved hearing your stories about him back at Lehigh and in the years that followed and loved hearing some first hand accounts of his many adventures when I had those rare opportunities. His passion has surely influenced your life and it shows. I'm so proud of you and proud of him for all that you have both done to inspire us all. You won't forget him = this I know! Keep those memories in your heart always and his lasting effects will be with you forever.