“…now look at yourself. You’re not even a has-been. You’re a never-was.” The quote, from a comedy in the nineties called “The Mighty Ducks”, gives me pause. It even inspires a sigh of resignation from time to time. You see, if you’re going to hit the skids, you have to start from an elevated position in the first place. You can’t be a has-been if you never were anybody to start with.
I posted a joke the other day (what day don’t I post a joke?) for my friends and acquaintances to enjoy. It was actually a loose quote of something the comic Lily Tomlin once said. The joke suggested that I had always wanted to be somebody. It went on to say that I guess I should have been a little more specific.
You see, most of us want to make it. We hope for (secretly, mostly) the fame that comes with making it. Like Thurber’s Walter Mitty, we imagine that we, more than anyone else, deserve to be the hero, the dashing leading man or lady. The only problem is that real life and real people keep getting in the way. So, like Thurber’s protagonist, we must content ourselves with at least imagining a hero’s romantic death if we can’t live the hero’s exciting life. Sure, we’ll face the firing squad. It’s better than dealing with the unrelenting stress of everyday relationships and life as we know it.
Why is it that we crave notoriety; that we covet the spotlight? We certainly do some odd contortions to gain that goal, including name-dropping. Why, I want you to know that I once touched the hand of Major Nikki Rowe, a decorated Vietnam War hero! It was something I bragged of when I was eleven years old, the year the parade was held in his honor when he had escaped after five years of being held captive and tortured by the Viet Cong. His convertible moved slowly out of the gates of the stadium and he touched the outstretched hands of those along the way, mine included. Does that not impress you? Well then, how about a closer and longer brush with greatness? I played in my high school band with a young man named Mike Fossum who, only last year, spent six months on the International Space Station, after many years as a NASA astronaut! He’s a real American hero! Never mind that we weren’t close friends in school. He did sit in the row behind me! I’m sure that I said “Hi” a time or two to him. Even if it is a weak claim to fame, I will do my best to borrow his honor by dropping his name whenever the opportunity presents itself. Perhaps, some will rub off. I just don’t want to be a never-was.
Sad, isn’t it, that we feel our lives so lacking that we must envy those who live the so-called good life and those who have gained fame by their exploits? The thing is, I have finally, after years of living among them, realized that I’m already surrounded by heroes in my life. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not exclusively the ones who save lives and property; not only those who bravely put their own well-being at risk for people in distress; not even just those who give up their private goals to work for others as public servants. Sure, those folks could be described as heroes, but the folks I’m talking about walk past me every day on the street. They take my order at the restaurant, repair the mechanical problems with my car, and even run the rooter machine down my sewer when it’s clogged.
The heroes whom I refer to are the ones who do what they’re called to do. Period. They don’t stand in the spotlight; they don’t take home the big paycheck. They simply do what they have to do. They teach. They clean. They build. They pick up trash. They are faithful, day in and day out, to the task for which they are gifted. I have known such people. I can name them, one by one, if need be. How would that be for name-dropping? My claim to fame is actually friendship and kinship with such heroes. I hope that someday, my claim to fame will be to be counted among them, as one of their peers.
Many of the famous ones–the wealthy, arrogant ones–call these folk the little people. But, when the rubber meets the road and it’s time to choose who we spend our lives with, most of us would (and do) choose to live with these “little people”. The rich and famous are all about image…and they do look good. But, as my father would say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” I have seen dishes on the table which appear to be delicious, but when the spoon is employed and the concoction is brought to the mouth, a grimace appears and the sputtering begins. Good taste never comes from appearance, but always from the ingredients and the process. If it looks good, as well, all the better. Again and again, we find that many of the famous look wonderful, but leave a horribly foul taste in the mouth.
So, how about it? Are you a has-been? A never-was? I’m wondering if there should be a third category. Perhaps, we could call it an always will-be. That’s the kind of person I could spend my life with.
I’d like for it to be the kind of person I’m becoming. Time will tell.
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”
(Bob Dylan~American folksinger/songwriter)
“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
(I Corinthians 4:2~NIV)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.