Monday, December 24, 2012

A Great Man

I see greatness every day.  That may seem strange but greatness to me is obvious in our lives and our society.  I am really fortunate because I get to see greatness in my work. The people our Health Assistants help are people who struggle to make ends meet, who live paycheck to paycheck, who work hard, and who do so in the face of illness, sick children, difficult work situations, and sometimes well-intentioned but misguided rules and regulations which just make things harder for them.  In response they still take care of their families, live their lives, and get up every morning to go to work.  That is greatness.  I see our Health Assistants really fighting for those people, crying with them, and encouraging them on a daily basis.  Those Health Assistants show greatness.  It is simple to see and it is all around us.    

This week I said goodbye to a man who personified greatness.  My wife and I have been friends with Dr. Wendy Bell and her family since Wendy and Rhonda were interns together.  They became “sisters from different mothers” as Wendy likes to say and through Wendy, I got to know her father, Mr. Clarence Crutchfield.  I had the honor of being at his funeral yesterday.   Mr. Crutchfield grew up in the segregated South at a time when it was hard for a young Black man to get ahead.  He joined the segregated Navy to serve his country in the midst of World War II and served on a ship in the Pacific as a signalman.  He then went to Tennessee State University, became a high school physical education teacher and coach, and married.  When his oldest child, Wendy, was five, he moved north to Detroit so his children could have better education opportunities and there he raised three daughters who became accomplished in their own professions.  At one point, he received his Masters in Counseling and went on to be a guidance counselor in the Detroit Public School system for 37 years.  He was a no nonsense guy who exuded dignity, respect and self-reliance and who believed in the importance of education and family above all else.  He stayed strong as the head of the family even after he retired and moved to Atlanta to be close to his daughters and his grandchildren.  Every year, when Rhonda and I would go to Wendy’s house for Christmas dinner, he was always at the head of the table, leading the opening prayer, and being the rock, the foundation, of a family that was anchored in faith and love.  That is greatness.  He took care of business.  He took care of his family.  He was strong in the face of adversity.  He was a man who would not be obsequious to anyone and for whom complaining was never an option.  That is greatness.  I truly loved that man and admired him tremendously.  He was a man who really would judge someone on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  When he was at his granddaughter’s wedding and she was marrying Eric who is extremely fair skinned with red hair, he was thrilled and said to me, and to anyone else who was listening, that the world had really changed.  There was no one happier than he was.  He never stayed in old paradigms and rather recognized that the world does change and sometimes even for the better.  That is greatness.    

When I think of him, I think of the old parable that is sometimes called “The Rabbi’s Gift” and sometimes called “The Messiah Among Us”.  I tried to find the source of the story and could not.  I first found it referenced in a book entitled “Deep Down Things: Selected Writings by Richard McCullen CM written in 1995.  Father McCullen was the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission which is the organization of priests and brothers who follow St. Vincent and are often called the Vincentians.  I first read the story in “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander but it was M. Scott Peck in his book, “The Different Drum”, who is usually given the credit for popularizing the story. 

A monastery had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, there were only five monks left in the decaying house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used as a retreat. On one occasion when the rabbi was in his hut, the abbot decided to go and speak with him and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read psalms together and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, “the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read psalms together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving –it was something cryptic– was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me!

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off-off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

Greatness is a gift given by those who radiate goodness and caring.  Greatness is all around us in the people we may least suspect.  Clarence Crutchfield was a model of greatness.  Greatness is in those who take care of their families, live their lives, and create light and hope for their children and for their community.  As our Health Assistants at Accolade help their clients, I know that they benefit from coming in contact with the greatness in those they speak with on a daily basis.  The challenge is recognizing the greatness in those people in the course of our work routines.  My hope for this season is that as Health Assistants we see, admire, and acknowledge the heroes we help.