What Is Greatness?

Weirdly enough, when I think of greatness, I think of Tony the Tiger going, “They’re grrrrreat!” when referring to Frosted Flakes. The world (or at least our American society) seems to think of greatness in this way, too. Something that stands out from the rest, something to encourage others to consume, something that’s well known, well worth the money, well worth the time invested, and so on. You’re great if you are successful, if you manage to overcome odds and climb to the top of the pile.

Can you be great on the bottom of the pile? Can one of the “least of these” be great? I think so.

Greatness can be loud and shared with others (the world’s way), and greatness can be more unassuming and self-contained (God’s way). To me, to be great is to influence others with your actions more than with your words, because people will discount what you say when you start to do something that contradicts it. To be great is to be humble, to do the right thing without expecting a reward or praise, to live an ordinary life with no grandiose plans, to let others have the spotlight.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. —C.S. Lewis

Post-Accident Musings

On June 14, I was in a car accident (or, as we call it in the South, a “wreck”), which left me with a collapsed lung and a fractured metatarsal in my left foot. I was in the hospital for almost two entire days. The short version of the story: I was driving to work early in the morning and moved over to avoid a pedestrian who was walking on the road. (I was still in my lane.) An SUV coming on the other side of the road crossed the center line because its driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, hitting my car (a small sedan) nearly head on. The pedestrian and the other driver survived, thankfully. My car was a total loss.*

In books and movies, when stuff like that happens, the affected character usually has a profound change or some brand new outlook on life, almost like Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation at the end of A Christmas Carol. But honestly, the only change that occurred in me was that I got mean. I lost patience, when before I had considered myself a fairly patient person. I snapped at people. I got sick of telling the story of the accident to everyone who asked me what happened. I didn’t want to deal with the insurance company or the ambulance chasers. I got mad at God (ironic, because when my car was hit, I had been praying the rosary, which in all likelihood saved my life). But I never did get mad at the pedestrian or the other driver.

I actually thought that God might be mad at me, that He might be trying to tell me something that I had been ignoring. So as I lay uncomfortably in the hospital bed with the incentive spirometer they gave me to reinflate my lung, I scoured my brain for things I might have done wrong. He’s trying to tell me that getting married is a bad idea. He thinks I’ve been too arrogant and is trying to make me more humble. He doesn’t want me to work the rest of this week because I’ve foolishly been overworking myself. He thinks I’m stupid because I’m not listening to Him, that I’m not interpreting this sign correctly.

Later on, I put all those thoughts out of my head and focused on the two positive things that drowned out all the negativity. (1) My four families love and care about me (my biological family, my future in-laws, my work family, my church family). (2) I am still alive, so my work on earth is not done. God has some kind of plan for me and He’s “got me” through this and everything else to follow, whatever that may be.

So onward I go, and perhaps the greatest lesson I can take from all this is to assert myself more often, so that when it comes down to it, all the meanness in me won’t come to a boiling point when similar crazy life events happen.

*Strangely enough, the loss of the car upset me more than anything. When you spend several years driving the same car, it becomes your friend and confidante. It has literally gone many miles with you and been with you through many important life events. Maybe this should be another lesson for me: never name your car or attribute human qualities to it. (But rest in peace, Vic.)

Esse Quam Videri

Esse quam videri is North Carolina’s state motto, translated as “To be, rather than to seem.” (I guess the translation of the motto into “Southern-speak” would be something along the lines of, “Don’t y’all be two-faced now, ya hear!”) I never really knew what it meant when I was learning about the state’s history in school, and I never bothered to seriously think about it until just recently, when it popped into my head for no apparent reason.

I was also thinking of utility, and how in today’s society, people are often valued for what they can do rather than for who they are (e.g., elderly people no longer being valued because they can no longer “do” anything of value to society). At the same time, the world admires people who are “themselves” and countless self-help books encourage people to be the “best version of themselves.” It is about being rather than doing or seeming.

One can do every great thing in the world and still not know how to just be or to appreciate himself for who he is rather than for what he has done. One can seem to be a good person, but his being or doing may show a different side of him that he may not wish others to see. Or one can just be and not worry about how one’s being may be interpreted.