Over the past week, I have been thinking of George Washington, George Goodykoontz, Albert Einstein, Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge, George Washington Carver, Ernest Hemingway, and so many more people I could hardly list them all here. I was thinking of a vegetarian in India who changed the world. I thought of a little old lady who lived in India and didn’t have two pennies to rub together, yet kings and presidents bowed to her. She spent her life taking care of the poor. I thought of a woman named Ann at the library sharing history with her daughter. I thought of people famous to the whole world, and people of whom I may be the only person in the whole world who still remembers them.
I thought of a Medal of Honor winner who once told me, “A hero is a coward who got cornered.” I also thought of another Medal of Honor winner, but he didn’t get to meet the president, his widow did though. He was the first submariner awarded the Medal of Honor.
My curse is an overriding need to analyze. I analyze everything, always looking for patterns and differences, always trying to understand this amazing world and everything in it. As I thought of these people, I realized they all had something in common. With the possible exception of George S. Patton, none of these people sought greatness. (I do not believe greatness can be thrust upon anyone, the individual cannot control that.) They also had something else in common.
They all had a knowledge and an acceptance of that knowledge that was so much a part of them as to be unnoticeable by the rest of us. We all know our time is limited, we do not know how limited, but it is limited. Some of us will reach old age like Mother Teresa; some of us will never leave our youth like James Dean. All these people, these great men and women, the famous and the obscure, they accepted their own mortality, in their own way, and moved forward with it. It is this clock, this kitchen timer, always counting down, always there, always ticking, that drove their passions. This clock is with all of us, normally subdued by our conscious, occasionally coming to the surface at times when we feel great loss.
This embracing of mortality allowed these people to concentrate their passion in one field of endeavor. Like da Vinci and Patton most had many fields of interest they were good at (also driven by their own mortality), but one area captured their passion, their drive, and their energies. This one area was larger, at least to them, than they were. They accomplished things that many of us felt could not be accomplished. However, their greatest accomplishments were not walking on the moon, inventing the light bulb or breaking the four-minute mile; their greatest accomplishment was to show us what we are capable of. Us. Common, obscure, average human beings, we can do things we never thought we were capable of; and we know that because someone has done those things before us. These great men and women have influenced us, and helped us to believe in ourselves, they blazed the trail for us.
Yet, to the people who knew them best, they were still just Nicolai or Amelia, that little kid down the street with the runny nose. Long after their greatness was proclaimed by the world, did those who knew them best see them as anything other than that little kid down the street. Most of them had one or more people who did recognize something in them and encouraged them, but many knew only their own encouragement until long after greatness was proclaimed by the world. Some even had to endure ridicule and mockery, and yet they strove forward, always forward, even when they were the only one who believed in themselves. At times even this self-belief and self-encouragement failed them, yet they pushed forward. Thank God they did, they gave us electricity and penicillin, telephones and blood transfusions, cars and sonograms. They touched the lives of every one of us.
You touch the lives of hundreds of people every day, and you probably do not know it. The clerk at the gas station you say “Thank You” too. The unhappy kid in line at the store you smile at. The person in traffic who is begging to be flipped-off, but you don’t. You too have your own passions. Maybe you are one of the lucky few who has someone to encourage you. They encourage you because they see the greatness within you (Next time you see that person, do something for me. Give that person a hug or a handshake and say “Thank you for being you.”) Even if you do not have the support of someone, that greatness is there just the same. Did Mother Theresa invent technologies or discover new drugs? No. She comforted the lowest of those among us and showed them that they were as great as the greatest among us.
When I was a small child John Alexander showed me an easy and quick way to sketch a sailing ship. You see John taught art to small classes of children at Silver Lake Elementary School. Forty years later small children are still learning how to draw ships from John though they have never met him. Friday my daughter showed me her drawing of a sailing ship. These small children today receive John’s gift through others who sat in those classrooms so long ago. So, you see we all influence more people than you could ever imagine.
You are great, even if you forget that. You too influence hundreds, thousands, and yes someday-even millions of people. Do not stop following what you like, do not ever stop pursuing your passions. Always believe in yourself, especially when others do not. Your influence will continue long after our time is over. You are great, and no one is insignificant.
John, she draws just as you taught us. You would be proud. Thank you my teacher. Thank you my friend.
- Text of George Washington’s Famous Letter to the Jewish Community (gestetnerupdates.com)
- Character: George Washington (runtherace.org)
- George Washington Carver Film Explores Faith of an American Hero (prweb.com)
- As George Washington once looked into his cup… (foodservicewarehouse.com)
- Allen West Inadvertently Claims George Washington Did Not Understand The Constitution (thinkprogress.org)
- Washington’s First Fourth (“Before he was America’s first president, George Washington was a spy and a soldier, serving on America’s frontier. His spying activities in advance of…”) (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Christie’s to auction George Washington’s personal Constitution for $3 million (bornrich.com)
- Fortunately, George Washington Had a Better Crew (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Extracurricular Activities Rock! Quote from George Washington (kidzrockinc.co)
- Show your patriotism: Give your kid a literal reason to put his John Hancock here (sacbee.com)
- “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Theresa (kmericks.com)
- H-e-r-o-e-s (kindredspirit23.wordpress.com)
- Mother Theresa – The Paradox (4allreligion.wordpress.com)
- FICTION: Romantic Bones #25 (thirtytwoshells.wordpress.com)
- How To Properly Define “Great Leader”–And Act Like One (fastcompany.com)
- Mother Teresa (wdednh.wordpress.com)
- Are you doing what you were called to do? (christianpf.com)
- The Legacy of Your Art (writingyourdestiny.com)
- What Heaven is like? (adifferenceforyourlovedones.wordpress.com)
- Inspiration to Keep Going, via Mother Theresa. (elephantjournal.com)