May 12, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

All great men and women are not dead, they’re all around us

Cynthia DewesWe often ask ourselves, where have all the great men gone? Why don’t we have a Churchill or an FDR or even a Jack Kennedy to inspire us? Good question.

Now, we have lots of people in the news, celebrities of every kind from political to entertainment. But they make headlines, not history, which is fleeting and ultimately meaningless.

Maybe our definition of what makes a great man—or woman—isn’t correct. Maybe we should open our minds to the greatness all around us.

For example, our dear friend John was a great man. He died recently, and his funeral was a real celebration of life and a testimonial to his importance. He was a faithful man, and the closing hymn, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth,” was entirely appropriate.

Although he was not a natural at being an engineer, John was so intelligent that he could function as a good one. Growing up in a poor family, he could only afford to attend the General Motors Institute after high school. It was a first-class engineering school, but not as widely academic as might have suited him better.

My husband became John’s mentor when he first came to work. He was bright, funny and a pleasure to work and socialize with. We invited him to dinner many times, and when his wife-to-be came on the scene, we included her in our lives. Now and then, they baby-sat for us.

John was a good husband to Pilar and father to his two girls, but he was also a great friend. He did whatever he could to help without being asked or thanked.

When our youngest son had an accident at our cabin and my husband dropped everything to take him to the hospital, he left the lights on and the door open. When John was told what happened, he immediately drove an hour to the cabin to turn off the lights and shut the door. Meanwhile, Pilar was sitting with us in the emergency ward offering her quiet support. They never asked what they could do; they just did it.

When our house was damaged by a fire and we had to move out, John and Pilar invited us to stay with them until we could find an apartment. We took several trips with them to Mexico and London and all around our country. They were always pleasant and fun companions, and any problems that arose became things to laugh about.

If we’re lucky and our antennae are out, we may find many great people like John and Pilar in our lives. What sets them apart is not only the temporary pleasures of their company, but the lasting impact they have over time on us and many others.

Such great people stay in our minds after we don’t get to see them any more. We remember fondly little incidents or insights they gave us to enrich our lives and even improve our character. They aren’t necessarily glamorous or beautiful or popular, but they will always be great.

I think of Father Bill, my husband’s uncle whom I’ve mentioned before as the best priest I’ve ever met. And I remember Miss Ramsland, my dowdy high school English teacher who was teased by the “bad” kids in class while inspiring me to really learn.

No, all the great men and women haven’t disappeared. They’re just hiding in plain sight, thanks be to God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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