An old man wrinkled by time and experience, bowed by the weight of a lifetime of responsibility, walks alone on a cold crisp night. The man has taken this slow and deliberate walk to no particular destination and with no particular purpose in mind. The deliberateness of the man’s walk comes partly from the frailty that so often accompanies a man of many years and partly from the wisdom that comes with those years which says that some things need not be rushed. As he walks, the man’s thoughts focus only on the trail and the beauty of the night. All that can be heard are the sounds of darkness and his own footsteps. A gust of wind accosts the man and he gathers his coat more tightly around him. He holds onto his hat and leans in to confront the wind as he continues down the path. After covering some distance, the man stops only to find himself on a precipice overlooking the city that he has called home for nearly eighty years. The view is clear before him, and his still sharp mind reflects on his long and fruitful life. The sights of the city below seem to stimulate memories long buried and deemed irrelevant. As he reviews the past, he is struck by the splendor and glory of the place that he has called home for so long. He realizes that he has taken much for granted all of these years. The man is humbled and thankful to God for his life and for what he has been allowed these past eighty years. He sees the place he played hide and seek with the neighborhood kids and he appreciates again the joy and carefree feelings of childhood. He hears his dear mother’s voice calling him to dinner, and he remembers all of the time spent around that kitchen table. He sees the place he met his wife and tears come to his eyes. He now realizes that she indeed may have been as perfect as he thought she was the first time he laid eyes on her. He sees their first home together and the children that he worried about and gloried in all those years. This exercise brings the man to the realization that his life has become a mosaic. He sees that his life has had a definite pattern that has been watched over by some power greater than himself. He does not quite understand but he is wise enough to appreciate. After much reminiscing, the man realizes how cold it really is and decides to go back from whence he came. Before he goes, the man takes one last look over the scene and realizes that this will probably be the last time he finds himself in this place. He adjusts his coat and hat then turns to leave, and his journey home is just as slow and deliberate as the walk that brought him to the precipice. As we reflect on this man’s experience, we conclude upon first consideration that he is just another old man. In his own mind he is nothing special, but I believe that if we were able to experience this man’s life first hand, we would probably find him a man of true greatness.
Many a man has made this journey at some point in his life. A man whose life has had meaning, meaning for himself and meaning for others, is worthy of consideration. True greatness does not come from doing but rather from becoming. A man whose life has brought meaning only to himself has lacked the vision and understanding of what life is all about and has fooled himself. A man who has brought meaning to others brings meaning upon himself. Truly great men act and are not acted upon. Truly great men inspire others to action. This inspiration comes not from what is said but rather how it is said. Truly great men are not necessarily memorable or noble; rather, great men inspire the memorable and noble thought. Michael Angelo’s creations did not make him great. Michael Angelo’s creations were inhabited by the spirit of inspiration and love and that is what made his creations great. The words of Martin Luther King Jr were not new to the English language. His were common words made uncommon by the inspiration and love that inhabited them. They were words that inspired others to action. The power of one man to inspire noble thought is incontestably a study in true and legitimate greatness.
My father was no Michael Angelo. While he invented things, his creations did not inspire anyone other than his children. My father was no Martin Luther King Jr. He could not command an audience or bring anyone to an ovation with any gift of speech. My father was not a lot of things, yet he was a lot of things to those who loved him. He did inspire, and he was a man of true and legitimate greatness. He was a man of greatness because of the power of his character that so indomitably accompanied him no matter where he went or what he was doing.
As a child, I watched my father lead and work in countless groups both formally organized and otherwise. Never once did I see him command as so many do. There had been times in my youth when I mistook his behavior as weakness. I often mistook him for the servant. It was not until later in my life that I began to understand what strength really was and that my father was a giant among other men. The dichotomy of this realization was that my father never recognized his greatness and would never have been able to fathom the thought. He often thought of himself to be one of those “insignificants.” I have recently begun to think that his humility was so intertwined with his greatness that if he ever realized his greatness he would not have been great.
Why is greatness, true and legitimate greatness, so rare in the men of this world? I have contemplated this for quite some time, and I have come to the realization that our society fosters and rewards dysfunction. We put so much emphasis on production, getting ahead, and climbing the ladder that we forget that we are part of the human family. We must understand that as a member of the human family our every action and interaction no matter how seemingly insignificant greatly influences the world around us. The understanding of stewardship instead of the erroneous beliefs of ownership, honor instead of pride, and principle instead of perfidiousness has not been instilled in the men of recent generations. If we are to remain a viable and progressive society, we must foster greatness in our men. If we do not, we will fail.
In light of these revelations, I have been working on a book about my father because: I do not wish the life of my father to be forgotten by my dear children who only knew him for such a short time, I want to aid in my own grieving process, and to show the world what men must become in order to remain that viable society. Despite this unabated talk of greatness, I do realize that my father was far from perfect, and I do not wish the reader to think that I am blinded to his imperfections. I acknowledge that he was a man of occasional temper, a passive aggressive man who in his dealings with his own family was rather inadequate. His self-consciousness was often communicated through his occasional aloofness, but despite these flaws, he was a great man. I will tell the story, you decide.