Have you ever met someone who inspired you to want to be a good or even a great human being? Someone who maybe changed the way you thought about greatness?
In 1961, when Pat Conroy (author of The Great Santini and other novels) was 17, he met such a man: William E. Dufford, the principal of Beaufort High School in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Bill Dufford gave young Pat a job as groundskeeper the summer before his senior year. When the principal took him to lunch, Pat saw the way Dufford moved from table to table, interacting with all kinds of people in the town.
“He made friendliness an art form,” Conroy would say many years later when he was speaking at an event to honor Dufford. “He knew everyone by their first name.”
Conroy spoke about what he saw in Bill Dufford: a man who moved with ease and confidence through his day; a man who was passionate and articulate; a man who had high ideals and yet was enjoyable to be with.
And then, recalling his 17-year-old self, Conroy said:
“I decided I would become the kind of man that Bill Dufford was born to be. I wanted to be the type of man that a whole town could respect and honor and fall in love with—the way Beaufort did when Bill Dufford came to town to teach and shape and turn its children into the best citizens they could be.”
There are many ways to define greatness. Here is one: “To aspire to be the kind of person that others could respect and honor and enjoy being with.”
Or, as Mark Twain put it:
“Live so that even the undertaker will be sorry to see you go.”
“If life is a question, would your answer be Yes or No?”
Many years ago, Esquire magazine posed this question to a number of thinkers.
The playwright Samuel Beckett responded:
“My answer is no. Life is awful. Grimace and bear it.”
The writer Isaac Bashevis Singer responded:
“My answer is yes. Life is God’s novel. Help him write it.”
And then there’s this; the poet Wallace Stevens wrote:
“Under every No lies a passion for Yes that has never been broken.”
In spite of all the tragedies and problems and failures and heartaches in the world, it just may be that it all boils down to this: am I living my life as a Yes or as a No?
What gives your life significance? What makes it count?
The famed cellist Pablo Casals said:
“I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”
He’s saying that if I want to fill my life with greater significance, I can start by caring more deeply, more genuinely about the people around me.
And if I care—really care—I have to do something.
Maybe I have to listen longer and harder, to really hear the person.
Maybe I need to be more fully present with people.
Maybe I need to be someone they can count on, someone who is fun to be with.
A song from Jackson Browne has these disturbing lyrics:
“Oh people look around you, the signs are everywhere; you’ve left it to someone other than you to be the one to care.”
That cuts deep, doesn’t it?
It’s like the old joke about the two friends. One friend says to the other, “What do you think is wrong with the world? Is it ignorance or apathy?”
The other friend says, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
But maybe what sounds like a downer is actually an invitation—a call to be the one who is different, the one who really sees and hears people, the one who is patient and understanding and forgiving…to be the one who cares.
Robert Frost gave us a peek into his way of looking at life when he said:
“What is required is sight and insight—then you might add one more: excite.”
Imagine starting the day with these three questions:
What will I see today? And how well will I see it?
What insight will I gain today? Insight into others, into myself…into life?
What will excite me today? Will anything stir me to my depths?
To slow down and quiet down and sit with those three questions perhaps for a few moments in the morning…not a bad way to get ready for a day!
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