By Vernon A. Williams
Members of the Gary Roosevelt High School Class of 1969 this summer celebrated their 50th-Year Reunion. That’s a significant milestone. One of the most intriguing comments classmates make to one another is, “After all these years…you haven’t changed.”
Vanity and desperation can tempt one to interpret that remark as saying, “You look the same as you did the day you graduated.” Fortunately, common sense and any good mirror will immediately dispel that misgiving.
So, what do people mean when they say it?
I feel eminently qualified to decode that message, since I frequently hear that “compliment” with the addendum of dubious distinction – “you’re still crazy.”
First of all, like everyone else, I was slightly different around different people. Those who only saw me in academic settings thought I was much smarter than I was (glasses helped that illusion). Those who watched me speak before crowds or lead organizations thought of me as an extrovert (in spite of reticence no friends allowed me to claim).
Those who really knew me were aware that while I never aspired to be the class clown – that title went uncontested to Frank Taylor, who shamelessly contorted his face in one class photo after another – I could never resist an opportunity to say something good for a laugh. There was something refreshing about sparking light-hearted spontaneity. Less kind analysis would simply conclude that often I was silly.
It didn’t matter. Fun has always been a priority for me. So it never mattered if it cost me a stern glare from the Government teacher or pouting disdain in the expressions of the English teacher, it was worth the rebuke if my classmates were cracking up.
So that “you haven’t changed” was really a kind way of saying, “you’re still crazy.”
But reflecting on five decades since walking those hallowed halls of the iconic institution of learning on the corner of 25th and Harrison, I realize two other personality traits prominent since kindergarten that really haven’t changed.
First, I never imitated others, which left no choice but for me to be myself. Secondly, I’ve always felt drawn to advocacy and service.
Funny how it all played out. Obsession for originality facilitated effectiveness as a writer; I found myself striving to pen words that inform, entertain, inspire, encourage, enlighten or provide direction for someone, somewhere. The ultimate objective was to articulate a call to action for readers uniquely positioned to make a difference or contribute to change.
This matter recently resurfaced in my mind after reading the work of writer, Darius Foroux. The headline of his article read; “The Purpose of Life is Not Happiness: It is Usefulness.” Like any profound assertion, there is room for debate. But I tend to agree.
Foroux writes: “Happiness can’t be a goal in itself. Therefore, it’s not something that’s achievable. I believe that happiness is merely a byproduct of usefulness. Did you do useful things in your lifetime? You don’t have to change the world or anything. Just make it a little bit better than it was when you were born.”
My claim on usefulness is not self-aggrandizement. Far from it. Anything I have done is through the grace of God and it is never enough. Instead, my story is designed to show the simplicity of it all, how anyone can do it, and to redirect priorities of those tempted to measure success by the stereotypical yardstick – degrees, titles, income, cars, houses, fame, awards, praise or other totally insignificant measures.
For example, volunteerism and community service reflect far more usefulness than any collection of worldly “stuff.” But even that goal does not have to be large. It can be thoughtful tasks within your own neighborhood like shoveling or doing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, taking your mother to a spa, teaching your father the internet, tutoring a struggling student, a ride to the clinic, a food, clothing or supply drive for shelters.
What a great time for activism. The next 15 months will influence the direction of a nation and the world. You have the capacity to be an influence. Hand out fliers, work a phone bank, host house parties, register voters, or arrange transportation to the polls. This is just not the time to sit on the sidelines, even if your inclination is not political. Don’t make excuses, make a difference. Don’t just sit there – do something.
Give to your church beyond tithes and offering, mentor a fatherless boy, teach a girl to act like a lady and dream like a man, keep an eye on bus stops in the dark, go to a City Council meeting with demands, fight crime by saying something when you see something, pick up litter, research a cure for sickle cell, do more pro bono legal work, chair a fundraiser for college scholarships, run for office, start a business to create jobs. No limits.
Foroux profoundly concludes: “It’s not always anything big. But when you do little useful things every day, it adds up to a life that is well lived. A life that mattered. The last thing I want is to be on my deathbed and realize there’s zero evidence that I ever existed.”
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society.Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.