Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Greatness Is All About

A school music teacher received this essay from an eight-year-old student concerning Johann Sebastian Bach: "He was a GREAT composer. He had 20 children and had an old spinster in the attic to practice on."

Actually, I don't know the exact number of children he had, but it seems to be quite a few. And I don't know what he kept in the attic...or what he practiced on. But the student was absolutely right about one thing: Bach was a GREAT composer.

Not all of us can be great at what we do. I try to do some things the very best I can. But that means I cannot give much attention to some of the less important tasks.

But what about just being good at WHO WE ARE? Good human beings? Even being GREAT at who we are?

Author James Michener learned something about greatness on a stormy night in the South Pacific. His plane was trying desperately to land on the Tontouta airstrip but could not do so. After several attempts in the dark of night, his knuckles were white with fear. When they finally landed safely, Michener went out and walked the length of the airstrip, looking at the dim outlines of the mountains they had so narrowly missed. He wrote this:
"And as I stood there in the darkness I caught a glimpse of the remaining years of my life and I swore an oath when peace came, if I survived, I would live the rest of my years as if I were a great man. I did not presume to think that I would be a great man. I have never thought in those terms, but I could conduct myself as if I were. I would adhere to my basic principles. I would bear public testimony to what I believed. I would be a better man. I would help others. I would truly believe and act as if all men were my brothers. And I would strive to make whatever world in which I found myself a better place. In the darkness a magnificent peace settled over me, for I saw that I could actually attain each of those objectives, and I never looked back."
Michener says that the very next day he started to draft the book TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC.* And if it can ever be said that he became a great man, I suspect it was only because he decided to be a better man than he was before.

Greatness may never have been your goal. But you and I can be a little better today than we were yesterday. We can help others a bit more today than yesterday. We can act more deliberately as if all people are our sisters and brothers. We can leave the world a better place tomorrow than we found it today.

And if that is the way to greatness, then we all can head that direction. One step at a time…beginning today.

-- Steve Goodier


* Michener’s quote comes from "OUT OF THE BLUE: Delight Comes Into Our Lives," by Mark Victor Hansen & Barbara Nichols with Patty Hansen (HarperCollins, 1996).

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