Have you ever been really thirsty? Years ago, I visited my sister Kathy in Mali, West Africa. During an afternoon of seeing the sights, the temperature had risen far above 100ºF. Parched, I told her, “Hey, I need something to drink.” When Kathy told me she had forgotten to bring along a supply of filtered water, I began to get a bit desperate. The longer we drove, the more I wondered what it was like to truly die of thirst.
In a commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:15, Martin Luther cites the story of Themistocles, the soldier and statesman who commanded the Athenian squadron. Through his strategy, he won the Battle of Salamis, drove the Persian army from Greek soil, and saved his city. A few years later, he fell out of favor, was ostracized by his countrymen, and was banished from Athens. Thus, Luther concludes, “Themistocles did much good for his city, but received much ingratitude.”
On October 19, 2008, I heard the news that Levi Stubbs, lead singer for Motown’s vocal group The Four Tops, had died at age 72. As a boy, I enjoyed the Four Tops, especially Stubbs’ emotion-filled, passionate voice. I had never met him or heard the group in concert, yet his passing affected me at an unexpected level.
In the spring of 2009, Susan Boyle took the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. Compared to the other contestants, she was plain-looking. No one expected much when she raised the microphone to her lips. But then she began to sing. Spellbound, the judges were clearly taken with the beauty and power of the voice that filled the auditorium as the audience stood to their feet cheering with delight. All were surprised that such a rivetingly beautiful song came from such an unlikely source.
Last week I had several opportunities to show grace. I wasn’t perfect, but I was pleased with the way I handled one situation in particular. Instead of getting angry, I said, “I understand how that could have happened. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes,” and I left it at that.
Matt Emmons, Olympic gold medalist in rifle shooting in 2004, was set to win another event at Athens. He had a commanding lead and hoped to make a direct bull’s-eye on his last shot. But something went wrong—he hit the target, but he was aiming at the wrong one! That wrong focus dropped him to eighth place and cost him a medal.
John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prizewinning novel The Grapes of Wrath begins with a scene in drought-ravaged Oklahoma during the Great Depression. With the crops dying and the land choked by dust, the women watched the men to see if they would break under the strain. When they saw the men’s will to carry on, they took heart. Steinbeck writes, “Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.” The issue was not happiness, prosperity, or satisfaction, but wholeness. This is the great need of us all.
In 1970, the Beatles began work on a documentary intended to show how their music was made. But instead of revealing the process of musical creativity, the film pulled the curtain back on a display of self-interest and bickering. The band members were more concerned about their own songs than the advancement of the group. Shortly after the project was completed, the group dissolved in disharmony and broken friendships.
Not long ago, I attended a class in origami, where I learned that the term comes from two Japanese words that mean “folding paper.” In this process, a piece of paper is transformed into a bird or other unique shape by a series of geometric folds and creases.
Cartoonist Scott Adams has become famous for his humorous cartoon strip “Dilbert.” He also wrote a book in the 1990s called The Dilbert Principle. In it he mocks technology, leadership fads, and incompetent managers. Many laugh out loud at the connections the book makes with their own work-a-day world.