“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” ~Helen Keller
It’s funny, sometimes, to realize that the true faces of courage and brilliance are found in the simplest most unexpected of places. And yet, that’s where they are truly and mostly found and therefore begs our attention to find more of them. By realizing that the unexpected joys of this earth can be found in the most simple and mundane of places, we will certainly find many more of them.
Take for instance an experience I had years ago, acting as one of several chaperones for a wonderful group of sixth graders who traveled to one of those theme parks scattered all over the country. You could say that I was “voluntold” to accompany this group of youngsters who were about to enter Middle School, all of them so sure about what was going to happen, and none of them truly aware of how their lives were about to change dramatically.
It was about a three-hour travel time from school to our destination that was actually quite enjoyable. Since we left very early in the morning, I think that for the first two hours of this last elementary school spree, the bus driver and I were the only people awake during that time. I loved the scenery that slowly glowed with the first little moments of dawn. In many ways it was like a little retreat that helped me place so many situations in the right perspective. I have tried to repeat these little enlightening moments ever since.
Every year, each “graduating” class adopted some theme or saying. It was hoped that this poignant thought would help weave the entire year together and hopefully make memories for years to come. I am happy to report, for our purposes here, that even after twenty years in some circumstances, we definitely achieved our goal. This class chose an interesting phrase that had surfaced among so many choices: “Always aspire to inspire before you expire!”
To this day, I find myself repeating that phrase and those who know me and know that I am set to say it again, beat me to the punch. It is, as the British say, the “bees’ knees.” (Means really cool.)
This particular school trip was going to be memorable. This group was both a joy and a drain to be around. While their laughter was infectious, the energy it took to keep up would have emptied the energy out of the Energizer rabbit. After about three hours, since I was the oldest of all the chaperones, they gave me reprieve and let me wander on my own, promising to meet up with the group at the end of the time allotted, and to board the bus to return home. However, before leaving I was to meet Jared, whose face and uniform and behavior, I pray I will never forget. I knew his name was Jared because of his big-name tag.
This particular theme park had the practice of hiring disabled individuals to do everything from greeting park goers, to taking tickets, and watering plants and shrubs. Jared must have been around sixteen years old and was confined to a highly modernized and motorized wheelchair where all the navigation was combined and centralized into one little “joystick” or flight stick that allowed him to maneuver backward, forward, side-to-side. He sure did master this feat of complete marvel to my eyes.
Jared was stationed in the food court and all his job consisted of was to pick up left behind food trays, dip them in a bucket attached to his wheelchair, dry them off with the one hand that he use of, and place them neatly in another side of his vehicle where, I imagined, someone would collect and get ready for re-use. With every approach to each table, my admiration for him and the tears in my eyes grew. He was so focused and untiring, as he attempted to manage a smile from his contorted expression, which would melt a glacier.
But as life presents at times, this remarkable scene was rudely interrupted by some brat-infested pre-teen with less manners than a hungry snake and less charm to boot. He thought it would be funny to make fun of Jared while accompanying him from table to table and making his only noble chore as difficult as he could. At one point, as Jared was reaching for a tray to clean, this inhuman prankster kept pushing it out of his reach until it fell to the ground. Jared never returned any hatred or equally mean behavior or look, but simply tried to lean down from his chair to pick up the item for cleaning. And just when you thought it could not get any worse, this spoiled child stepped on it — making it impossible for Jared to retrieve. It was then that I could not help myself and leapt up and as directly and sternly as I could, dug down to enlist my Darth Vader voice to somewhat shout, “Get off the tray!” The little bully ran off and I picked up the tray and helped Jared wash it and place it with the others.
“I’m sorry, Son. I hope that guy didn’t ruin your day.” As I started to make my way for the entrance of the park and meet my hopefully tired and exhausted group of sixth graders, I looked back and could hear him slowly mouth, with not a small amount of effort, “Thaaa…nk…you.” I started to weep. Not because of pity, but because of complete admiration and amazement for this soul that embodied greatness to me on a hot summer afternoon. As soon as I could compose myself, I looked at him with the hope that I would never forget him, and said, “You inspire me.” And with that, Jared went back to work and his life, and I returned to mine, all the better for this encounter.
I believe all of us have seeds of greatness within us. Our ability to think, reason, create, discover, and much, much more, proves that each one of us is special and unique. Rest assured that none of us are a mistake! We all face difficult challenges from time to time, but one thing is true; every life has great worth and incredible value. Though our time here on this planet is relatively brief, each of us should aspire to do what we can to inspire and help others in the limited amount of time we are given. Whether we realize it or not, our lives touch many other lives. For as long as we live, we should do everything in our power to inspire, help, and encourage others as we journey together.
Whoever you are and wherever you are reading this wonderful memory of mine from, I pray that you will collect many like it. There are miracles and opportunities of greatness everywhere. Expect to find them and they will be there. Think about all the people who never attempt great things because they are afraid that they might fail. We simply cannot be counted among them. My friends, seek greatness. Aspire to inspire before you expire, to new heights that you have never attempted. When you do, you will inspire other people and yourself as well. It happened to me at a theme park more than twenty years ago, and my prayer is that Jared is still inspiring you.
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“We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.” ~Epicletus