We watched this video in class on Friday:
I guess perhaps the title of this post may seem strange . . . but as I thought about Jobs and the impact he had on the world, it reminded me that it's not just those we see that change the world. Jobs and others like him inspire us; they do not move the world alone.
Sorry for the lengthiness, but these are some thoughts I wrote a while back taking a world history class, thoughts about the importance of our unseen commitment to being true.
“God Give Me The Faith, And Afterwards the Courage”
- Christopher Columbus
Our class began a study of the Middle Ages with the question, “What is Faith?” and “What is its opposite?” In a comical approach to these tragic questions, we never even answered them; one would have thought that instead of a group of scholars who had read and studied those things from birth, we were a gathering of illiterate laymen engaging in an intellectual exercise on a subject that mattered little to our life, and even less to our happiness.
As my study of history has progressed, I have been exposed to a thousand characters of history, millennia of war, centuries of debate, relative milliseconds of lives that seemed to really matter, and people who seemed to know the answers to the questions that plague me. Even the centuries that Durant named “faith” hold more fear and violence than events that prove really hopeful. I know each of my classmates and do not question their own convictions; I am taught daily by their words and examples and believe that our innate sense of faith betrays more than our command of the English language could ever illustrate. But still I wonder, how much do I know about faith? How important is this simple word? If the Middle Ages, with all their terror and abuse, depravity and disease, could be termed by a scholar The Age of Faith, what would he call my own time?
I have always thought of my era as one more advanced, more civilized, and more blessed than any previous time period. Foolishly or not, I still consider it to be . . . but how advanced am I if I can’t even define a fundamental tenet of my own religion, one used to describe not only an earlier civilization, but also something upon which my eternity depends?
In an insane trick of words, this word seems indescribable. And in what could be a devastating twist of events, this idea must be understood. Faith, I am told, is to be both like a child, and like the oldest, most exalted, Supreme Being in the Universe. It is knowledge, and hope; it is cause and effect. It is part of the things I reject; it is part of the things I embrace. With my physical senses I cannot see it, feel it, or taste it, and yet it is more sensually known and understood than the most tangible things I can describe.
Faith, I know, is tremendously important. I cannot yet fully define it; I have not yet fully mastered it. And, despite those two facts, I am required to continue in the path I have begun, and proceed on to whatever follows. And in history what follows is intriguing. What follows the thing I would term real faith is not what I had expected.
My previous cursory study of history taught me that the there was a specific path to greatness; that those who have marked meaningful achievement in life did so through patterning their lives after certain principles, faithfully adhering to those principles, and enduring through whatever ensued. The greatest, I had thought, were those with the most impact for good on the lives of their fellow men, and future generations.
My second reading of history confirms, and denies, all of my previous suppositions. It confirms all I had thought about the path and the purpose of greatness; but it denies what I thought to be great. It confirms that all real greatness begins with faith and ends with love. It confirms that hope is essential, but implies hope in something other than I expected. This new definition of greatness requires a great deal of courage, simply because this new definition risks everything.
This definition says the opposite of what history (I thought) had proven; it says that the common, illiterate mother, and the awkward, unlettered father could have as much impact as the Napoleons of their times. As much impact – no, even more. It says that the Middle Ages are as important as the Industrial Revolutions. I laugh even at the thought. It seems so obviously false. But there is enough evidence to compel me to continue in this vein of thought; I am struck by the solemnity of the idea even more than by its absurdity. What if it were true? I’ve heard this idea enough to consider it partly legitimate. But as the full implications of what I say I believe stare me in the face, I pause and wonder. Napoleon’s name stands out in history; I don’t even know the name of my great-great-great grandfather. Napoleon saved and scathed the lives of thousands; I can’t name anything that that grandfather did. But, I am here because of that grandfather, not because of Napoleon. Is that really that great?
Somehow, it is more important to seek to be a great mother, I am told, than to be a Mother Teresa. (How can a mother of (possibly) ten, be as great as the mother of (adopted) thousands?) It is as good to be a faithful husband and father, I have heard, as it is to be a renowned statesman. (How can a father of five, five who will never be known, never be lauded, never be remembered, have as much impact as a George Washington?) At first the thought is almost exhilarating; but then I wonder – why be the Washington, if the John Doe is as great? Why laud the Churchill if the taxi-driver is as good? Is he as good, is she as great, or are these things we tell ourselves and others to satisfy an unquenchable desire for more, and to still an ego that wants only increasing recognition?
The paradox increases as I examine the lives of those “known” to be great. Lincoln’s family life was less than exemplary; Gandhi’s marriage was not what I hope my own to be; Corrie Ten Boom never married at all. I can find circumstances where fathers failed, and statesmen succeeded, where mothers never married and nations were changed. The reasoning proves fallible, it seems, when I seek for examples to support the belief that whether or not I am known really doesn’t matter. In the annals of time, in fact, it seems to matter a great deal. Perhaps somewhere I’ve gone wrong.
My last inquiry ends with Christ. He did not seek for influence and status. He never ransomed his relationship with His Father for the recognition of the masses. His life ended in a mixture of infamy and fame . . . and I wonder if that isn’t how the lives of all great men and women must end. Truth must be sought at the risk of rejection. Service should be rendered on the chance that no one, save God, will ever know. Careers must be pursued, families must be raised, not because they will lead to fame, but because they are right; and in the end it is good to remember that the price of greatness is as costly when it leads to recognition as when it leads to anonymity.
It takes faith to pursue something that seems inconsequential or irrelevant in relation to the turnings of time. And it takes a great deal of courage to continue in that thing when it becomes clear that no one will praise you for it and no one will thank you for it.
Perhaps the lives of those who are most faithful almost reflect the aspects of that same word, faith: they are rarely if ever seen; they are part of everything that is important; what they do is hard, if even possible, to describe. They are seldom recognized, and seldom understood. But without them time and eternity would be meaningless, while with them all we do know grows much richer, and we are much greater. I’m not even sure of what the great do, or how they do it; none but their most visible deeds are memorialized. Their highest work is a symbol of something else. Of these, the faithful, the courageous, a few are known by name. But the rest of them are only evidenced because there was a Washington, and there was a Jefferson – their greatness is evidenced in another. Greatness in the end is synonymous with faithfulness; it is simple, essential and real. It is a glass that looks like nothing; it is a mirror that shows everything. Such examples are hard to find, and hard to follow. But they illustrate the perfect path to happiness, a path unbounded by time, and made real by eternity. The faithful, the courageous, must be us as we live our simple lives. No other success is as resounding; no other call is as great.