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The Admirable Many Continued


So, another week, much to be experienced, all to be welcomed, some to be savored. Things for chagrin, things for wonder. An era ending, do we know how to exist between two worlds as has been said, one dying, and another waiting to be born?  There's no blueprint. The answer will need to be exfoliated from our daily choices, convictions, decisions.

And so, inspired by percolating initiatives here and there, voices that won't be silenced, and human aspiration and hope that won't be quelled, my thoughts returned to last week's list. 

And still wishing to "stand under" genius and engage the most admirable, I pick up my list, chronologically, roughly at least, where we last left it.

So I can only pray for the willingness to be as transformed as fundamentally where I most need to be as William Wilberforce, British MP and campaigner who influenced British public opinion to abolish slavery there in 1833, and a companion figure in the historical zeitgeist, John Newton, who was part of the slave trade himself, had a spiritual conversion, devoted his life to Ministry, wrote numerous hymns, but none as timelessly miraculous perhaps as "Amazing Grace."

I am stunned by Abraham Lincoln, multiple bankruptcies, marital woes, bouts of deep depression, then stepping into a critical moment of history. Growing into astounding leadership, and helping his nation survive the searing Civil War, and through his immortal words, "to bind up the nation's wounds," helping his country over time seek to transcend that devastating episode and move however haltingly towards a "just and lasting peace."

Queen Victoria also remarkably gave her name to an era, presiding over Great Britain in the Nineteenth Century. She oversaw, with a quiet Majesty, that I deeply treasure, the remarkable flourishing of the industrial revolution as well as the global growth of the British Empire. 

How can I not applaud Louis Pasteur, French chemist and biologist, developer of so many life-saving and life-giving vaccines, including those for rabies and anthrax? His sense of restless experimentation and wonder, his exceptional dedication must be an inspiration to all in the field today, and all of us cheering on their progress.

Entering the 20th century, I salute those remarkable Irish wits, Oscar Wilde who so epigrammatically eviscerated social shibboleths and dethroned Victorian "earnestness" and the remarkable George Bernard Shaw who helped transform a theater of empty melodrama into a theater of ideas and was arguably the greatest prose stylist of the English language. 

Mahatama Gandhi, politics and nationalism aside, inspires me as a towering historical figure. He overthrew his own privilege, embodied non-resistance which helped liberate India, sought to reconcile Hindus and Muslims (important, heroic things are alas more begun than built on too often) as well as seeking to help the untouchable caste. Many admirers, bridging traditions called him "the most Christ-like man alive."

At the other end was the flamboyant, larger than life, indomitable Winston Churchill. Like Lincoln a life marked by controversy, even disgrace, depression, seemingly destined to be an eloquent footnote in history. And then with the world teetering, he stepped into the breach, and embodied the civilized world's resistance to Fascism. He gave confidence to FDR that Britain would hold the fort until the American factories could prepare the US to dive in. His speeches galvanized and inspired the world when ordinary men and women needed to hold on to belief and conviction.

The Maestro of Physics, the delightful patent clerk who changed the universe as we know it, Albert Einstein rallies my rejoicing in our human potential. Ground-breaking insights into relativity, up-ending the Newtonian Universe in some ways. Einstein was also a remarkable and relentless humanitarian and peace activist and again personified humanity at its wisest yes, but also at its best.

Mother Teresa rattles the cages of my complacency. That slight Albanian nun, who managed to both serve and bypass Catholic hierarchy in establishing her Order. She lived and served in love in the most poverty ravaged parts of Calcutta. She said in helping people there she saw "Jesus in his most distressing disguises." She symbolized charity and loving sacrifice.

I admire the improbable partnership of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. President Kennedy helped avert nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, potentially saving the planet in so doing, by assembling the best talent around him, and refusing to be "provoked" either domestically or internationally. After his assassination, it was his Southern VP, Johnson (LBJ) who became President, and against every expectation and stereotype, actually ensured Civil Rights legislation was implemented, appointing people like the African American giant Thurgood Marshall to become the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

And let me bring this to a close with Nelson Mandela. First a "freedom fighter" or "terrorist" depending on who was doing the classifying. 27 years in jail...hard to fathom how you keep your spirit so gloriously intact, and emerge to forgive your captors, and create real rapprochement with those who led apartheid. He was an extraordinary embodiment of leadership, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Well, that's my trove for today. Of course legions of admirable luminaries are excluded, these are just those who percolated to my awareness today, for whatever reason. 

As we head into the week-end and the week, I urge everyone to do a tally of what you admire, and who you admire, and let's remember this: Everyone on this list had flaws, detractors, critics. LBJ had disastrous policies re Vietnam for example. We are not looking as I said for "perfection" (non-existent in this human sphere, as grappling with our imperfection is what makes us human in part) to idolize. 

Somewhere amidst the dross of being human, some remarkable people sift past their limitations, and locate and express greatness in some arena or sphere, enlightening or illuminating or inspiring all of us as they do. When we encounter that and encounter them, we have to bask in that light and seek to ourselves, however imperfectly, be carriers of it.

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©2019 by Omar Khan