30 Feet From Greatness
There are many ways to define greatness in some of the people we come across in our lives. As a cub sports reporter many moons ago, I once had Pete Rose explain to me the nuances of hitting a Sandy Koufax fastball. Boomer Esiason told me about the courage of getting splattered on the ground by a defensive lineman, only to get back up to throw a touchdown pass on the next play. I saw Frank Sinatra sing ‘My Way’ and bring the house down.
Greatness comes in many styles, colors and definitions. It is the effortless nature of accomplishment, a subtle determination to overcome and an impressive struggle to be the absolute best you can be.
I’ve met a lot of people in life whom many would call ‘great.’ Athletes, business people, actors and singers. Sometimes, just basic everyday ordinary folk. But, it occurred to me the other day that every night, when I lay my head down to rest, that I sleep just 30 feet or so from greatness.
“Let me tell you about my kids” is a phrase that many of us hear and immediately want to turn and run the other way. But it’s my page, so you’ll have to indulge me.
Last month, I saw both of my kids graduate college. Actually, it was on the same day, just two hours and five miles apart. For most of us parents, it is a glorious day in that you don’t have to write checks anymore. For others, it is crossing the finishing line in a marathon that you may have thought would never happen.
My youngest, Lillie, received her first degree that day, a bachelor’s degree in social work. She did it in three short years, mixing a combination of advanced placement classes from high school and summer classes to accelerate the process so she can start her master’s work this summer. Lillie wants to specialize in helping children, a passion she has had her entire life. She especially wants to work with kids who have been abused or neglected and lost in the system. Her heart is seemingly 10 times the size of her body.
My oldest, Emily, has earned her third college degree by the time she is 25. She received her law degree from a prestigious program, after getting her bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA with a focus on business ethics. She has done more in the last seven years than I did in my first 40. She wants to focus her work on corporate governance, but she may also branch out into whatever she wants to do. Having a doctorate in jurisprudence, an MBA and an accounting degree gives her plenty of leeway to pretty much call her own shots.
Did I mention that both of these gifted, well-rounded and genuinely kind and gentle souls are blind? As in no sight. Nada. Pitch black. It’s been that way since they were born, a genetic trait handed down by my wife and me. While some may wallow in their sorrows, my wife had a different path for each of these vivacious toddlers who were born four years apart. She enrolled them in programs to help them communicate more effectively, despite their blindness, to help them start reading Braille—and to find material they could read.
Before we knew it, Emily was taking advanced placement classes in high school, such calculus and other courses she probably had no reason to take, given the challenges. But that is what made both she and her sister thrive: tell me something I can’t do and I’ll show you. Cross a busy street intersection at 12 with only my cane, my training and my God-given instincts? Yes, I will do that. Play soccer with a modified ball with a bell in it? Sure, now get out of my way. Get on an airplane by yourself and fly to a training conference for blind students? Well, of course.
On and on it went. Both of them, had not an iota of fear in their body. The ate up and spit out the toughest courses in school, sang in choruses and did everything that a typical teenager would do. When they got to college, it was the same old, same old. Accounting classes, geology courses, anything that could challenge their minds and teach them. They each lived on the campuses they attended, making their way around crowded quads and antiquated buildings that aren’t easy for even the well-sighted to maneuver, but they thrived. The law student came home her final two years to save her dear old dad some coins, and the social worker lives just 10 minutes away in her dorm, but visits all too frequently so much that it makes me wonder why I bought her a meal plan.
And each night, I rest my head on the pillow and thank the good Lord for protecting them and helping them find their place in life—as a licensed social worker who just very well may save a child’s life by advocating for them or a lawyer who fights for those who have been marginalized and taken advantage of who can’t fight back on their own.
Down the hall just 30 feet away from me are two of the smartest and bravest human beings I have ever known. Their impact on this world will be felt long after I’m gone, so mission accomplished. Greatness comes in many forms, if you look for it. And sometimes, greatness can’t be seen at all, but it is most definitely there.