The Greatest Love of All

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows.  If I fail, if I succeed – at least I’ll live as I believe.  No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.  Because the greatest love of all is happening to me.  I found the greatest love of all inside of me.  The greatest love of all is easy to achieve.  Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. – (Greatest Love of All)

Michael Masser and Linda Creed wrote the music and lyrics in 1977 with the most famous version of it recorded by Whitney Houston in 1985.  I listen to it often . . . usually while starting my evening run.  It has a good beat. Houston has a good voice.  And the song . . . has a great meaning.

I grew up in the 1970s, graduating from high school and college during that decade.  And that decade included the end of the Vietnam War, Kent State, Apollo 13, Watergate, Mark Spitz, Love Story, Soul Train, the skateboard, and hot pants. That time period was a strange mixture of longing for the simplicity of the past while yearning for what might be great changes in the future.  It was also a mere fifty years since the United States granted women of the United States the right to vote.

During the 1970s, women weren’t exactly encouraged to pursue their dreams.  It was certainly legal to go to college, bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.  But . . . it wasn’t readily accepted as a way of life.  Change was still far off on the horizon.  We, as women, could see it, but it was distant, and fuzzy, and always just a bit out of arms reach.  But we, collectively, and I, individually, moved on, just putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, week by week, year by year.  Nothing was perfect, but it wasn’t chopped liver either.

What became clear to me early on . . . is that I had to believe in myself – believe that I could succeed, believe that I would be okay if I tried and failed, believe that I, alone, and no one else had control of my destiny.  That’s not to say that I stood by myself 100% of the time, but it had to start with me.  It had to start somewhere deep inside my world and gain momentum along the way.

The only way folks like Sandra Day O’Connor, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and my very own mother achieved the greatest they achieved – as I can unwind it –  was, first, loving themselves.  Not selfishly.  Not thoughtlessly.  Not inconsiderately. But supportively, sensibly, and courageously.  They seemed to know how to lead themselves before gaining the skills used to lead others.

Via Houston’s voice, Masser and Creed tell  us – regardless of gender – “never to walk in anyone’s shadow.”  They are certainly not the first folks to tell us so, but they do so in a simple, direct way.  And, in the previous stanza, they tell us to let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.

My six-year-old grandson is carefree, confident, happy, inquisitive, and has absolutely no fear of failure.  In fact, in his eyes, there is no such thing as failure – only unusual successes.  He definitely isn’t walking in anyone else’s shadow.  I am not even sure he has the ability to do so.  He certainly doesn’t have the desire.  He loves himself for himself.  Children are models in that regard, our inspiration.

I paused while running and took a photo of my shadow.

Though I have slowed down a bit with this activity, throughout my own children’s college years, I would routinely email the lyrics to songs like The Greatest Love of All to my sons and daughter, usually on what I called Motivation Mondays.   With each email, I would remind them of their own personal greatness and implore them to consider their talents in order to make a difference in their world, in my world, in the world.  My purpose behind Motivation Mondays wasn’t to stroke ego or make sure  that all 18-22 year olds related to me were attending college classes as scheduled; rather, it was to nurture the ability within them, within all humans to love ourselves in the best way possible.

For me, I hope and pray that the struggles of the 1970s are nearing the end, and that the solutions to today’s struggles are easier to reach.  I hope and pray that my own children have the Greatest Love of All, and that they recognize that it is being modeled for them every day, in every way, by the gentle giant of a six-year-old who is a fearless soul at this point.  And finally, I hope and pray that I continue to forge my own path, my own destiny, never walking in anyone else’s shadow.

It’s a story that hasn’t been finished.

Those Sunday Afternoon Movies

“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.”

Yikes!  I can listen to that phrase all day long and the meaning still eludes me. Once again, this past weekend, I watched Finding Forrester, a simple little movie – great to watch on a cold, cloudy, rainy Sunday afternoon. The concept of the movie is fairly straightforward – an intergenerational plot, a growing friendship, a coming of age for both main characters, with classic good versus evil activity.  I’ve watched these types of movies before (Searching for Bobby Fischer, About a Boy, Mona Lisa Smile, Dead Poets Society), but I haven’t ever plucked out that one line that seems to be speaking to me in a bigger way.

“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.”

This weekend, a gentleman, age 89, died in my home town.  I did not know him all that well; however, he was a neighbor many, many years ago and we were members of the same church.  I know his children and grandchildren.  My children know his children and grandchildren. I know his friends and acquaintances.  In fact, it is fair to say that he knew quite a percentage of the folks in my small town, and people knew him. He made the world a better place working, spending a lifetime, at a local university as a faculty member.  He used his mind to make my life better.

And today, I learned that a gentleman, age 81, – a friend of mine – died while living and working in Rome.  He was devoted to working with those in need and did so throughout his career as a Catholic priest.  Most recently, he was working at the Vatican’s North American College. Retirement was not in his vocabulary as I am quite sure that he didn’t think of himself as employed.  More likely he thought of himself as busy on a day to day basis.  And if I were asked to explain his work, my best description would be working to smooth out the path for me and those who follow.

“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.”

The list of folks who are ‘at rest’, who have gone before me, and who have added to the ease at which I live is endless.  . . . Mother Teresa . . . Abraham Lincoln . . . Sacagawea . . . Mohandas Gandhi . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . Susan B. Anthony . . . Pope John Paul II . . . the 89 year old . . . the 81 year old . . . all of my relatives and friends . . .  Each person on my list has managed to make a difference, to leave an imprint, right a wrong, change the world.  Each person on my list probably knew that they were changing the world, but humility in all things entered their pictures first.  Their focus was on others, not on themselves.

And I suppose the big guess that all of them have left me with is whether or not I am capable of doing for others what they have done for me.  Can I help bring world attention to poverty and suffering like Mother Teresa?  Can I walk the footsteps of Lincoln and right the injustices of slavery by effectively leading a new and emerging nation?  Or, like Sacagawea, can I change the nation’s view on the rights and status of women in a native culture?  Or like the 89 and 81 year olds on my list, affect enough change that upon death, the world trembles? With each person on my list, the size of the shoes to fill increases exponentially beyond my comprehension.

“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.”

I guess in my piece of the world, I have to give up the expectation that the rest of those who have gone before me will steady me.  It was not and should not be their intention to provide a worry-free atmosphere here on earth.  It was not and should not be their plan to not only make the world a better place but to eliminate the need for my continued effort in the future.  It was not and should not be their legacy to create worldly perfection.

Rather all is unsteady and I suppose that is the beauty of it all.  It is natural for tomorrow to bring unrest.   It is natural for tomorrow to bring uncertainty.  And in my experience it is natural for tomorrow to bring more questions than yesterday had answers.

“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.”

Originally, I thought spending a Sunday afternoon watching a little known film while everyone around me was scrambling to complete a laundry list of chores was a bit brazen on my part.  My body was telling me to jump up and dust something, but my mind was – as usual with this film – otherwise engaged.

I am not sure that I learned anything new; rather, I was once again pulled through a refresher on what I have always known.  Changing the world isn’t easy, but it is doable.  To top is off, changing the world is an expectation that I should have of myself; and, throughout my change the world journey, I best hold on tight as the ride – no matter how much fun it contains, how exciting it can truly be, and what I may or may not learn along the way – is going to be quite a rocky one.

The July Moon

A July moon resting in the summer sky.