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On this day in 1914 my grandfather James William King Jr. was born.
We did not meet until sometime in 1971. I can’t exactly remember, just being born and all, but I’m sure that my entry into this world was met with the same simple, joyful, matter of fact appreciation that I will always remember about him. From railroad worker to insurance salesman, neighborhood advocate to family patriarch, my grandfather’s natural charisma helped round off some of the rough edges of some of his harsh opinions and prejudices. I cannot fully excuse these short comings but I am sympathetic to the world he grew up in and the experiences he must of had to form these. His world was very different than mine, just as my world today will be very different from the world my boys write about in the future. We cannot judge history through the lens of today. However I do agree with the notion that those who do not pay attention to history are destined to repeat it.
I have always felt that my grandfather, and his (middle) son – my dad – were connected and cut from the same cloth. As I grew older, I seemed to intuitively understand what my grandfather was thinking. I understood what could make him laugh and make him mad. I could predict his reactions to events in the news and comments on television. Over the years, I’ve heard his voice in my head as a knee jerk reaction to something I’ve heard or seen. Sometimes I agree and sometimes, given my own lens of understanding and compassion, I’ll react in a much different way.
I guess the most important lesson I’ve taken from him over the years is the notion of self reliance, understanding and tendency to take action when and where it was needed. There is a time to let things roll “like water off a ducks back” because they are inevitable, but that does not mean you should be submissive and naively accept all that the world throws at you. While you can likely do very little to affect change in some far off place or person(s), there is something that you can and should do to affect change in your own situation.
When you take action, often by default, you also end up helping those around you too. For instance, when you see litter on the ground, pick it up. What happens? You feel good about picking up some trash and regaining some control over your environment. But look deeper. What else happens around you?
On the surface, you’ll realize that in all likelihood, picking up the trash will have little to no effect on the person that tossed it there in the first place. Likely they are long gone. But, by throwing away the trash, perhaps you’ve brought a twinge of smile to someone across the street or driving past you at that moment. Perhaps (unknowingly) someone will walk down the sidewalk and instead of feeling mad/sad about seeing a piece of trash on the ground, their attention is turned upward or outward to the blue sky, fresh air or laughter of their child. For sure, you did not cause any of these things to happen, and there is still a very good chance that the person may still not notice these things because of other thoughts or stresses in their lives. But what if it does change something in that person…whoever it is, no matter if you know them (or will ever know them) or not.
For me, what comes to mind when I think about this is a story I heard years ago about one of the legends of baseball (I can’t remember which one) who was asked how he can stay motivated to play at his highest level day after day during the long baseball season…year after year. His response was something like “I’ve run out of the dugout onto the field 1,000 times in my career. While it might not be as exciting for me each time, I know that there is some kid out there in the crowd who IS seeing it for the first time. This may be his first time to a ball game. It could be his last time too. It’s THAT kid I think about when I’m at the plate or out in the field. Do I want to let THAT kid down today? Hell no!”
While few of us will ever have the opportunity to inspire or transform the lives of thousands of adoring fans. We each have the ability to do what’s right, what needs to be done, and then simply do it. Not for ourselves, but for someone we love or even for someone we’ve never met or never will. That’s called living with purpose and that’s the way James William King Jr. lived his life for almost a century. That adds up to a lot of trash (and a lot of “nickel-cans”) picked up along the way…but there’s absolutely no way to measure the ripple effect these small actions have had on the world, at least the world my grandfather created for me and every person he came in contact with.
Today, “be not simply good. Be good for something.” (Thoreau) That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what Jim King would do. What are you going to do?