When icons transition, optimists look to the future – not the past

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By Vernon A. Williams

Fans and admirers dread the loss of beloved celebrities and public figures. Soulful reflection in mourning often blurs mortal imperfections. Why not? It is downright disrespectful to disdain the deceased and decency says accent the positive!

Senator John McCain

While that is sound and politically safe advice, admonishment from one simply not given to hyperbole suggests that we be careful not to say there will never be “another” John McCain or Aretha Franklin or any great public figure or celebrity for that matter.

Of course, we know that the statement is true in a literal perspective. Every human is as different as snowflakes. The words, however, imply that it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever ascend to the level of accomplishment or character of such storied icons.

Most offer such restrained outlooks for the future oblivious to history. In truth, before McCain, there were articulate lawmakers keenly astute at working both sides of the aisle – like Adlai Stevenson, Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen, Bob Dole, George McGovern, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Ted Kennedy. There will be more.

Aretha Franklin

Though for my money, no female recording artist can touch Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, the younger generation is enamored with talented stars of their age. Before that, baby boomers felt Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey who dwelled in rarified air. Before there was Aretha, there was Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and the inimitable Mahalia Jackson.

Greatness is relative.

That is why millennials favor LeBron James over Michael Jordan, consider Floyd Mayweather the greatest boxer ever, and crown Beyonce as untouchable royalty.

Get the point. Greatness did not begin or end with our personal contemporaries. Most who reached superstar status or global acclaim overcame inconspicuous beginnings, endured points in their career when people questioned their ability. They were ordinary people who managed to reach extraordinary heights.

The assertion that undiscovered talent can match or exceed the levels of notoriety of luminaries we mourn this week is not to diminish the impact of their lives. On the contrary, their example has inspired the people who would follow in their esteemed footsteps and they laid the foundation for those who will emerge in the future. They were trailblazers.

Still, we need to get a grasp of woeful lamentations among some mourners that the passing of these individuals will create some perennial void. People need to get a grip and recognize that the future is brighter because of the path these individuals lit.

In actuality, the apprehension that there are no future greats in waiting casts aspersions over young Americans whose potential is incalculable. We have far too many smart, resourceful, gifted and talented children and young adults to dismiss their possibilities. They may match or exceed the greatest accomplishments that we have ever known.

The forecast that “there will never be another…” is sweet and gentle praise in the form of loving, unrelenting accolades that acknowledge the contribution of people who seemed somehow bigger than life. We can never allow myopic perspectives to speak into the atmosphere a dim prophesy that grossly underestimates young Americans.

We say farewell to the departed with love. We embrace the future with great expectation!

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