Some of you may remember Ed Sullivan (this dates me and others who do). He hosted a weekly TV variety show in the 50s and 60s. He also did live shows for charities. Once he asked Jimmy Durante, a well-known entertainer of that era, to join him at a veteran’s hospital to entertain some of the disabled vets there. Durante told him he would like to help, but had two radio shows that day and those bookings were a substantial part of his income. Sullivan assured him that he only had to do one number and would be out in time to make his other commitments.
They went to the hospital; Durante did his number, and the audience was ecstatic and pleaded for more. Much to Sullivan’s surprise, Durante accepted the applause and proceeded to do two more complete routines! When he finally made his exit to a standing ovation for the crowd of veterans, Sullivan exclaimed, “Jimmy, you were great! But how you’ll never make your radio shows.” Durante replied, “Look at the front row of that audience, and you’ll see why I forgot all about those performances.” Sullivan poked his head through the curtain and spotted two soldiers in the front tow. Each had lost an arm, and they were applauding by clapping their two separate remaining hands together as one.
As I reflect over my life, it is not the great and powerful people who have inspired me. It has not been the strong and physically imposing that personified leadership. It has been those who admit that they are human; yet persist in embracing the people and tasks placed before them. Character is usually revealed when a person works through their challenges; and not necessarily when they capitalize on their advantages. All too often, the media latches onto those whose accomplishments are beyond us. Shaquille O’Neal’s size or LeBron James’ athleticism is something to which none of us can relate. The wealth amassed by Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, or Alice Walton is incomprehensible to those who live paycheck to paycheck.
And the applause and recognition received by a media stars such as Tom Cruise or Helen DeGeneres (without some form of recognition) seems sadly disproportionate to what they contribute to the wellbeing of others. On the other hand, there is the occasional celebrity I admire. Even with the shocking narrative with doping allegations, Lance Armstrong’s career was impressive, especially when he was determined to move beyond a devastating cancer diagnoses and demanding treatment regimen. His energy directed toward encouraging other cancer patients out shined the issues that burnished the accomplishments of his racing career. There are arguably many others whose lights in the media have been tarnished and whose character has outlived and enlightened others.
What part of partial, broken, or “weak” in each of us is often our greatest asset? Many times, people say, “I’m sorry,” when they burst into tears. What they fail to recognize is that their tears speak volumes about what it important to them. What we perceive as strength (or what the world tells us is important) will often be superficial and will be likely to only impress people who live in the shallows. Can we learn to name the parts of us that are broken and partial. Like the two veterans in the story, we can find other people who are wounded in ways like us. We can cheer on those who face struggles that we also have endured.
May God give each of us the strength and wisdom to use the parts of us that might otherwise lead us to embarrassment or shame. Through our faith, may we recognize the people around us who have risen above the challenges placed before them. May we see in both them and ourselves those elements of healing that have helped us to surpass and conquer this world of hard knocks. God bless you and them for the hope that each brings to this time and place.