I was once asked, “who influenced you?” Meaning, given my background and ethnicity, how did I arrive at the convictions that I wear loudly and proudly on such topics as economics, politics, theology, and the culture.
At the time I was asked, I had never given the question any thought. As such, I gave, what I now know to be, a partial answer. Yes, you guessed it. With the most sincerest of hearts and not wanting to appear trite, I said “Jesus!”
In part, it was a true response. But, not in whole. With the benefit of some time to contemplate the question further, I now realize the correct answer is “Many”. It has been a compilation of many people, many places, and many experiences that have influenced me to be a person of, as was said of Jack Roeser, “convictions and not opinions.”
I grew up on a very small farm in southern Alabama, in the one-stop sign town called Nichburg, Alabama. Among many things on that farm we raised pigs, chickens, and my grandfather always had a raccoon or two in the backyard, so I guess we raised raccoons also. There were about 8 families in the whole community. Unequivocally, it was the best childhood ever. I oftentimes lament at not being able to give my own children such a childhood.
Yet, we were what they call “dirt poor”. As a child, I never knew just how poor we really were. My grandmother would routinely ask me to help her with the garden. I thought she just wanted to spend quality time with me, I never knew that it was for survival.
But, from the people and from that spot on the map, I learned the valuable lesson of reaping what you sow. As a farmer, I have seen my grandfathers and grandmothers up early in the fields, sowing seeds with the full expectation that their efforts would not be in vain. I saw my grandfather slaughter a hog and then go from house to house in that community sharing portions of his fortune with others with the full expectation that his efforts were not in vain. As a child, I knew if I did something less than honorable while I was away from my family, before I made it back home my grandmother had heard about it from at least 6 of the 8 families. I grew up in an environment of accountability, work for what you want, and respect.
Although, my material wealth was less than nothing. I never felt lack. Most importantly, I never thought of myself as a victim because of my impoverished circumstances. From the many examples, people, and experiences I had witnessed, I grew up earnestly believing most people are good and if I sowed seeds of great quality my efforts would not be in vain. My grandfather and grandmother died before they could see the fruition of all of their efforts. But, I and many others are the fruits of their labor.
Falling into the category of the “many” who have influenced my life is Jack Roeser. I do not pretend that my interaction with Jack spanned over many years or was especially meaningful to him. But, to me, he made an indelible print on my heart. Over the years, my view of people being “mostly good” has wavered, a bit, to be replaced by the thought that most people are tremendously self-consumed. I guess it’s to be expected given the decline of our culture and the stance I generally take on unpopular topics. But, with no agenda in hand, not wanting anything and open to give everything, Jack was simply adorable and funny. Now, I’m sure if you were on the opposite side of a political issue with him, you would not describe him as “adorable and funny”.
Given the political and cultural battles he fought, no one had a better excuse to become jaded by life and an apathetic culture than Jack. With all the things he did, battles he fought, businesses he created, it would probably be a shorter list if we focused on what he had not done in his 90 years of living. Yet, he greeted me with a warm smile, liberally gave out his insights, was brutally honest, and went out of his way to make me feel comfortable.
My heart was saddened when I first got the news about Jack’s passing. I mean, I had just sat down and spent over 2 hours with him just over a month ago and now he was gone. As my family and I prepared to attend his wake this past Monday, June 16th, my mind kept thinking about his extraordinary life. I thought about what it would be like to live such an extraordinary life. I thought about how the sun is beginning to set on the best part of our country – leaving the rest of us with, well, what seems like a bunch of “ethically challenged” leaders to carry the mantle forward. I thought about the “Many” that have influenced my life and Jack became a part of that “Many”. I thought, “When I grow up, I want to be like Jack.”
I want to:
1. Thrive. His was a life of thriving, not just surviving and not just existing. On the contrary, it was about doing something and doing it well. When we last met, he paused our conversation for a moment to consult with two of his engineers to discuss two new patents he was working on.
2. Be kind. He was uncharacteristically, unusually kind. At his wake, I and many others stood in line for over 3 hours to speak with the family and to say our farewells to Jack. The time went by fast as we each spent the time telling our favorite “Jack” memory about the time when he just showed up, sat down, and wanted to know everything about you.
He shared his stories and his time generously. He HAD NO RESPECT OF PERSON. I want to be like that. I want to be kind for absolutely no reason at all. Everyone I spoke to felt valued in his presence. Even to see his two sons standing there greeting each person so warmly, sharing a story, a kind word was another indelible mark, no doubt, inspired by their father.
3. Be an encourager. He listened to me go on and on and on about our culture, our politics, the survival of our nation. He gave me sound advice. He came up to me later on and encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing, to never stop, to come by his office whenever I wanted to, to utilize his office. He was fanning the flames in me. He didn’t have to, but he wanted to.
I did not grow up with a father. As silly as it may sound to some, given my very brief interactions with Jack, I thought to myself, I wished he was my dad. As I waited in line with many others, I quickly learned I was not the only one who had thought that or dared to say it out loud to the man himself.
From all that I’ve said so far, one might think that I had this amazing relationship with Jack that spanned over decades. Unfortunately, I did not. It was very brief. To many, the short amount of time I did spend with him is an inconsequential amount of time. But, that was the beauty of Jack and that is why I want to be just like him when I grow up.
God bless…8 comments