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  • Omar Khan

Those Admirable Many


The vegetable and fruit truck stopped by our building, a glorious treat, allowing us to inhale some air, and be caressed by some sunshine, and exchange some "pandemic" banter with fellow residents.

I try and smile at everyone, a human exchange of cheer, a sense of something we tune into, tap into, outside the exigencies of circumstance, that unites us and animates us.

I can hear Leo Buscaglia telling me, "Go on, don't be lazy, she needs a smile!" Then, he'd say, "Why stop, rock her world, give her a warm, joyous hug!" I have to tell his spirit, "Soon, Leo, soon," when we're not afraid of what we might "give" each other when we touch.

And so, I was thinking of people who have lifted me up, have rocked my world, and this is not an exhaustive catalogue, just a tribute to inspiration in so many forms. Do this yourself, it's enlivening!

I bow to the joint impact of Siddhartha, who became the Buddha who taught us to "let go" and Confucius the Chinese statesman and philosopher, who taught us how to "hold on". And in that dance, life unfolds.

Our only martyr to truth was Socrates, the mad gadfly of Athens, who ignited Plato's genius, who in turn tutored the young Aristotle, and who jointly gave us the foundations of modern Western thought. That the young of Athens who were there when Socrates was unjustly accused wept so inconsolably at his passing, gives us a glimpse into the depth of what he kindled.

So, I salute St. Francis of Assisi, he warms the cockles of my humanity. How can you do better than his heartfelt humility, "I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone."

And then I am awed by Saladin, who led the Arabs during the Crusades. He unified disparate Muslim provinces, he fought humanely and mercifully, he was gracious in victory, and even enemies mentioned that he waged war when he had to, with his "heart at peace."

I cherish the humanists, Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. The Black Death was going to give way to The Renaissance and the "end" of one civilization gave way to the birth of another. Erasmus and Thomas More and others like them gave remarkable voice to this.

Being a lover of George Bernard Shaw's works, through his magnificent play, I was reintroduced to her. You can but gasp at the bravery, bravado and spirit of the young peasant girl, Joan of Arc who liberated a country, inspired a wayward Dauphin to rise to be King, and years after being burned and excommunicated, her spirit would not be quelled, and she is honored today as Saint Joan.

What can one say about Michelangelo, breaking his back (literally) to give us the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Both through his sensational, extraordinary work, and its subject matter, you literally experience God and man reaching towards and "touching" each other.

And much as More despaired of him, I rejoice for Martin Luther, going and nailing those theses to the Wittenberg church door, capsizing with his passionate dissent what was becoming a stagnant Catholic orthodoxy and kicking off not only the Reformation but the Catholic Counter-Reformation in response. What does it take to trust your heart, even if you may be wrong, to locate the courage and summon your spirit to offer yourself up in that way?

Akbar the glorious Moghul Emperor raises my gaze. A great leader who consolidated and expanded the Moghul Empire. An exemplar of religious tolerance, patron of the arts, culture and cuisine -- which inspires me in a different way when savored today.

I admire Elizabeth, Queen of England, one of the daughters of Henry VIII, in his attempt to keep the Tudor Dynasty in power. She mobilized her nation to face down the Spanish Armada, the Elizabethan age was also the age of Shakespeare, and she personified a Kingdom that was to go global.

I cherish Sir Isaac Newton, who gave us the foundation of modern physics, invented calculus, gave us an understanding of motion and gravity, and yet I admire most his perception of reality when he says in one of his journals: "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered around me."

I admire the father of the United States, George Washington, who came to embody the possibility of self-rule, who defused martial law, who refused the "kingship" that would have been offered, who gave us the first country without a King on the planet, and willingly ceded power thereby establishing the rule of law.

And high fives to a contemporary, Catherine the Great, Russian Queen, revitalizing, rejuvenating Russia, her reforms helped the poor, Russia became a major European power and she wielded her impact with both majesty and dignity.

And I will close for today with Beethoven, despite increasing deafness, music flowed from him, illuminating us all. He bridged classical and romantic eras in music, and gave us glories like the Moonlight Sonata, the immortal Fifth Symphony (virtually everyone on the planet recognizes the famous "Fate" motif it opens with), and among so many legendary pieces, the revolutionizing Ninth Symphony, intuitively adding a choir to sing Schiller's Ode to Joy, done now when he was almost completely deaf! Clearly he still "heard" the Muse's loving whisper.

I may continue the list of inspiration in a few days, coming to a more contemporary era. Please don't think I am suggesting these are the "greatest" (many are excluded) or that these are always even my "favorites." Today, post vegetables, fruit, sunshine and smiles, these extraordinary people most came bountifully and unambiguously to mind.

And whoever you admire, whether they be famous or completely unknown to anyone else, consider this. By seeking to "understand" greatness, we literally "stand under" it. We embrace it rather than just idolize it hopefully. There is a reason some of the great religions were wary of idols. When we "embrace" we welcome, we honor, we open to, and we are hopefully expanded, at least just a little, and possibly even at least briefly, ennobled.

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©2019 by Omar Khan