Greatness and “Closing the Book”

With the recent 5th anniversary of the surprising death of Michael Jackson, much of the world has looked back to reminisce about his “greatness.” Like most in my generation, I too can remember listening to Michael’s music and being completely mesmerized by his showmanship, his talent and his charisma. But, with his death, I also have been struck by how so many people have looked back on Michael’s life and have only focused on “his great years” without much notice of the tortured, demented years later in his life. How could someone be immortalized so easily when they “closed the book” on their life so badly?

Mickey Mantle-oldIn a different way, Mickey Mantle also was a person who was heralded as one of the greatest ever, despite living a life of sinfulness and foolishness. Blessed with almost superhuman physical abilities, Mickey dominated baseball and became a legend. By the end of his career, he had played in 12 World Series, won the championship seven times, was voted the AL MVP three times and claimed the rare batting Triple Crown in 1956. In every way, Mick was one of the greatest ball players of all time. But, away from the field, he drank and partied like his life was short, which he believed to be true. Having seen most of the men in his family struck down in their primes, Mickey declared “I’m not gonna be cheated!” By 1995, the years of drinking and wild living had caught up to Mickey and he had to have a liver transplant, when he also found out that he had inoperable liver cancer. In just over two months after his transplant, the great Mickey Mantle died. In his last few months, Mickey worked hard to show the world the foolishness of his life and urged people not to walk in his footsteps. “This is a role model: Don’t be like me,” Mickey would say. After his death, sportscaster Bob Costas said of his childhood hero, “In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it.”

Alfred NobelWhile the world usually will typically remember Michael Jackson and Mickey Mantle for how they lived their lives, rather than how they ”closed their books“, Alfred Nobel is not. Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1833, Alfred Bernhard Nobel grew up to be a brilliant chemist and engineer. Inheriting his family’s armament manufacturing business, Nobel went onto study explosives and in 1867, he invented dynamite. in 1888, a French newspaper accidentally printed a premature obituary for Nobel, stating e marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”). The obituary went onto say that Nobel ”became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before“ and this shook him deeply. In his last will and testament, Nobel left the majority of his wealth to the establishment of a series of Nobel Prizes, which would be given out annually to those who further the causes of the sciences and peace. To this day, the majority of people know his name not as one of war but of peace.

Lee KirkpatrickLooking at the lives of Michael, Mickey and Alfred, we see three men who lived their lives differently, and finished their lives dissimilarly, and all were labeled as ”great“ but the world around them. But is this true greatness? Is greatness defined by incredible achievements or notoriety? Or is true greatness found in the life of someone who has lived with passion, integrity, devotion and selfless service? Lee Kirkpatrick was this kind of great one. The wife of one of my former bosses, Lee had a huge impact on my wife, my family and my marriage. Shortly after we were married in 2002, Treshia and I sought out Lee and her husband to mentor us in our young marriage, which Lee did with much love. Every time we met with them, Lee would amaze us with her tireless caring and support for us, despite the fact that she was raising four children of her own at home each day. With her adoring devotion to her husband Rob, she taught us about marriage. With her selfless service and caring of Rob, Ben, Maggie and Jack, she taught us about parenting. I still can remember Lee’s squeal when we told her that we were expecting our first little one in 2004. Then in January of 2005, Lee was diagnosed with colon cancer. Despite battling a form of cancer that racked her with pain and robbed her of energy, Lee continued to serve her family and others so beautifully, even insisting on ironing her family’s clothes every day so she could bless them! On December 13, 2005, the Lord took Lee home to be with Him and Lee ”closed the book“ on a truly great life.

As the world remembers a pop icon that made his mark on millions, I think of a 42-year-old woman that laid her imprint on eternity.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.