Monday, May 4, 2009

Hall of Fame

There was a time when I believed in the myth that those who were famous people all somehow came from or lived in the "land of celebrity." This land these stars came from was a blessed place. Really famous individuals were given special graces and gifts in the areas of the arts, sciences, industry, religion and service and they came from a "significant" place. Unfortunately that world or location was never where I was. I might visit that place or read about it but I was not to be part of that place. I just assumed then that for some unknown mystical reason I wasn't to be part of the experience or even geography of those who would be famous. I also believed that I was not gifted to achieve or do anything significant.

Success, peace, satisfaction, self-actualization always happened to someone else from some other place. Nothing good came directly or exactly from where I was living with my family or my circle of friends. We lived in "average land." This myth continued to grow as it seemed I was surrounded by all average people with nothing special about us.

Compounding this issue is that I was born and raised in New Jersey. This fact alone fed this belief about self worth and the hopelessness of achieving success. I was oft reminded by others that I grew up in the land of refineries, toxic waste and hypodermic needled beaches. A good friend who had moved to the east coast of the US used to introduce himself as living in New York City even though he lived and worked in New Jersey. He would remind me privately that "nothing good comes from New Jersey." He was embarrassed about living in a place that he believed had had a negative reputation around the country and the world.

Last evening Lindsay, my oldest daughter, and I were guests of my friend Dan at a special celebration. The musings about personal achievement and success were suddenly course corrected and a mild case of momentary enlightenment ensued. We attended the Induction Ceremony of the New Jersey Hall of Fame Class of 2009 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. You see out of hundreds of nominees from New Jersey a few were chosen to be honored for their contributions in the following categories: Historical (contributions transcend one particular category; Enterprise ; Arts and Entertainment ; Sports; and , General ( encompassing military,writers,scholars,civil servants, politicians etc not covered in other categories.)This particular inductee group included: Paul Robeson, Walt Whitman, Guglielmo Marconi, Carl Sagan, Jon Bon Jovi, Jerry Lewis, Althea Gibson, Shaquillle O'Neal, Phil Rizzuto, F.Sott Fitzgerald, William Carlos Williams, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello and former US Senator Bill Bradley. One can read all about the Hall of Fame and the inductees by clicking on I guess I was wrong about famous and some significant celebrities coming from a place other than my own neighborhood. Many of these inductees are some of my own personal heroes!

The climax of the evening was when General David Petraeus introduced and welcomed the individual receiving the "Unsung Hero Award", twenty five year old US Army 1st Lt. Brian Brennan. While in Afghanistan, Brian was wounded and suffered an acute brain injury, collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, multiple fractures and lost both of his legs. Brian walked out onto the stage and up to the podium without assistance. Regardless of one's position on the current war the complete audience stood up giving him a rousing welcome (and message of gratitude for his heroism and sacrifice.)There wasn't a dry eye in the house when he said that he was accepting this award "for all the hard-working Americans who do not receive any honors."

It was clear in hearing Lt. Brennan's story and witnessing him on stage that maybe there are some who are more deserving of recognition and gratitude than others. Yet, even with this emotional moment I couldn't help but to think about what the wives, children and descendants were saying about their hall of fame family members who were being honored. Regardless of the nature of the reason for the recognition; scientific achievement or contribution to the arts or to society in general, each family member who spoke about their honored family member identified specific qualities that seemed to be common to each of the honorees. These common qualities were: love, dignity, integrity and service.

Phrases being used to described the honorees were : "Great spouse", "loving father”, “good helpful friend and neighbor", and "committed to doing the right thing for people and society." It is quite simple and evident that real achievement is about the love,the dignity,the integrity and service.

It wouldn't be inaccurate to surmise that everyone who left the event last evening was feeling proud about being part of the "Garden State" - New Jersey . I felt humbled witnessing such a unique celebration of love and gratitude. It wasn't difficult to become reflective hoping that when I am gone that my daughters will know that I be a good husband, father and friend. I am grateful as my "Hall of Fame" is - being blessed with the gift of my life and family .The only similarity with last night's celebration and any possible remembrance in my honor....I wouldn't mind having Southside Johnny and Jon Bon Govi singing "We're Having a Party" at the end.

"We sanctify all we are grateful for"
-- Anthony DeMello SJ


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