For many in our community, and indeed around the country, this new year is already being perceived as a challenging time. COVID still seems to be stalking us, the economy is struggling, our national politics remain a quagmire of animosity and people, right here in High Point, we are experiencing physical deprivations most of us can’t even imagine. And yet, here we stand at the threshold of a new year which can bring us the promise of new solutions and opportunities for positive and constructive change.  So, what is it that can make this empowering change possible? How do each of us become stronger, more compassionate and resilient influencers and builders who can make High Point a better place for all in 2022?

For me, the answer to this question can be found in three simple life lessons I learned from my best friend, Jorge Lagueruela, whom we lost this past year. He was a remarkable human being who had lived 64 amazing years of giving, loving, investing, celebrating and serving others.  I saw his life, his very significant sphere of influence, as a microcosm of our community and how he touched his world inspired me to work harder every single day to likewise impact my world.

First and foremost; Jorge loved people, he reached out to everyone and he did so with a genuine sense of curiosity and interest in their lives.  He would walk into an office and within ten minutes could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the CEO, his secretary, the doorman, the lady cleaning the lobby and be equally as enthusiastic about each one of them. He taught me that life is about relationships, connection and a willingness to step beyond our comfort zones to intimately touch, understand and influence the lives of others.

I don’t believe I’ve ever known anyone who enjoyed giving and helping others the way Jorge did. He had that unbridled joy of a child at Christmas and yet, he also understood the act of giving came with responsibility.  He sought to improve the lives of others and he did so in ways that encouraged self-sufficiency which in turn engendered self-respect. He was a discerning businessman who understood that indiscriminate giving could actually be worse than not giving at all. He learned early in life, watching his father lose everything when his family fled from Castro’s regime in Cuba, that happiness and fulfillment had nothing to do with the acquisition of wealth or power. He always lived his life with the understanding that at the end of our life journey all we really have left is what which we have already given away.

Perhaps Jorge’s most important lesson, the one that impacted my life most profoundly was his commitment to speaking into the lives of those he loved. He was singularly committed to transparency and he knew that people, and communities, had to be held accountable to become exceptional.  Friends like this hold us to higher standards, they make us all better people and ultimately, they create a stronger, more equitable community.

If I could describe our 46-year friendship in a single phrase I would borrow the words from the Book of Proverbs which teach us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is my prayer for all of us this year, that we may “sharpen one another” every single day and in the process make our world a better place for all of us.  For good… For High Point… Forever.