We’re Just Not That Important

Here’s a brilliant excerpt from David French at The Corner.

All that changed in the late evening hours of November 22, 2007, in a moment of blinding clarity while sitting in the back of a Chinook helicopter flying over Diyala, Iraq. As I looked past the door gunner to see fires burning in the distance and the arc of tracer fire in the air, I keenly realized that I was, quite simply, nobody. My helicopter could go down, my Humvee could explode, and General Petraeus wouldn’t call off the surge. Taps would play, the flags in Columbia would fly at half mast, and one more gravestone would join hundreds of others in our church cemetery, but aside from a link to a news story or two and occasional fond remembrances from friends, I would be less than a whisper in the wind of history.

Not to my family, however. For them, my loss would change everything. That’s when I realized a fundamental truth – a truth we’d all do well to remember: We can have (at best) a small amount of influence over a large number of people, but we will only have a large amount of influence over a small number of people.

…In Judeo-Christian tradition, the relevant question relates to our calling, to our duty, not to our ambition and personal fulfillment. For some, our call places us on the battlefield, where a nameless (to us today) young private bleeding on Little Round Top did greater things for his country than I will likely ever do over the entire course of my life. For others, the call places them in a firehouse, at a PTA meeting, in a cubicle, or – yes – sometimes in the highest reaches of government. But for all of us the call remains to faithfulness and care for our families, the people whom we influence the most.

I used to think I could be important, and ordered my life accordingly. Now I realize I’m not and try my best to simply know, understand, and do my duty.

Winston Churchill once delivered an extraordinary insult, “My opponent is a humble man, he is a man with much to be humble about.” It was made all that much more effective by the fact that Churchill was one of the most important men who ever lived. That’s not just because of what he accomplished, but because it’s entirely possible that if he hadn’t been around, the course of history might have turned out very differently.

Men like that are much rarer than most people realize. In fact, it’s possible that there isn’t a single person like that on planet earth today. You might say, “Look at what Bill Gates did at Microsoft!” But, if Bill Gates wasn’t around, maybe we’d all be using MACS or IBM would have made the PC equivalent, but it probably wouldn’t have been all that radical of a change.

We all think the things we’re doing are so essential — and they are to a limited group of people: our friends, our family, and a select few others. To everyone else, no matter how rich, famous, or powerful you are, you’re here today and will be forgotten tomorrow. Keep that in mind and prioritize your life accordingly.

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