Friday, March 03, 2006

Mr. Originality

One morning, not so very long ago, a newborn baby, full of expectation, bounded into the world. He was the sixth baby born at Memorial Hospital that day, and he had his mother's eyes and his father's nose. His parents named him John, John Smith, but not out of a desire to protect his identity. He was simply named after his Grandpa John, his mother's father.

John grew to be a likeable boy. Never what one would call popular, but he always had friends, or at least friendly acquaintances. In truth, most of his playmates were really his older brother's friends, but Fillip always allowed John to tag along, and John admired him for it.

John was a better-than-average student, but never known for his brains. He was also a fair athlete and even made an all-star team once. The same team Fillip had made a couple of years before.

When John was eight, he joined the Scouts. And by the time he was sixteen, he wore the badge of an Eagle Scout, just like his dad. Everyone was very proud. His Aunt Hildie assured him that she wasn’t surprised for that sort of work ethic ran in the family.

Of course, it was this same work ethic that led John to toil in his father's hardware store each weekend while most other guys his age were off dating girls. “John’s a late bloomer," his mother proudly affirmed, "just like his Uncle Steve." For his efforts, John's dad decided to groom him to take over the family business one day. Fillip had obtained a scholarship to State to study architecture – he’d be the first in the family to make it to college.

John lived a relatively happy life, I suppose. I don't mean to give the impression that he didn't. He’d experienced no major tragedies in his young life. However, as he reached the end of his school days a little twinge of emptiness--barely discernable-- somewhere in the back of his mind, began to tug at him. At first, John didn't know what to make of it, but as he drove his white sedan to the hardware store after the graduation ceremonies, the feeling grew stronger, and forced John to reflect on it. Maybe that's normal. Maybe when you reach one of life's mile markers it’s what you're supposed to do... reflect.

As John sat in the parking lot... he looked back over his life and realized that none of his achievements, his special moments... or even his personality felt like they were his alone. They all seemed to belong to others more than they belonged to him. He had spent his first eighteen years as a follower, and this left him discontented.

Surely, he had been created for something more… something astonishing, something inspiring, something indelible, or, at the very least, noteworthy. There must be a trail left to blaze, a frontier left to explore, a niche left to carve, a legacy to leave, which could be distinctly his. But this was to be his silent, elusive passion.

John fell in love with Lisa, an attractive girl from his mother's hometown, only eleven miles away. After courting her briefly, he proposed marriage, and Lisa accepted, despite the fact that she had received an identical ring in a previous engagement. Thrilled, John raced home with his new fiancée only to find a celebration already underway for Fillip, who had become engaged earlier that same evening.

Lisa wished to be married in her hometown church where, of course, John's parents and grandparents had also been married. And naturally, the only date available on the church’s wedding calendar was, you guessed it, his parents' anniversary.

The years came and went, but John’s obsession remained. Always he felt like he was on the brink of something special, something uniquely his own, and he could taste it. Once, John had an idea for an invention, a timesaving yard implement, but then his father died, and John was boxed into assuming the entire responsibility for the hardware store. A year later, a farmer patented a similar tool and retired quite comfortably to a thousand-acre ranch in Texas, although John always refused to stock the tool in his store.

Lisa gave John two boys of his own (who, by the way, never worked a day in the hardware store). Inspired by his love for these boys, John wrote a fantastic children's story for them. Unfortunately, his manuscript never saw the light of day, because an eerily similar novel penned by a best-selling author found its way to bookshelves that very month.

The pattern continued. John would cast his soul into one endeavor or another only to find that someone else had just accomplished his goal. To use a cliche, John was always “a day late and a dollar short”. Snake-bitten, each time he came up short, a little piece of him died. However, please do not misunderstand me to say that John was a failure, far from it.

He was a devoted, faithful husband, a loving father, and a steadfast influence in his church and his community. And he never lost hope, but continued to reach for the brass ring, to grasp hold of that something, that amazing, spectacular something that would forever mark him as a man of note. Or as he saw it, a man period.

He is gone now. John Smith died with his mother's failing eyes and his father's crooked, fleshy nose. He lived to what many would call a “ripe-old age”. He wasn't snuffed out in the prime of his life, and he didn't live to see a hundred. Of course, many others have died at the same age, an age that I'm sure John would think quite ordinary. His body rests in the family cemetery next to Lisa's... and adjacent to the plots where his parents are buried.

This may seem like a story about a man who was born unremarkably, who lived unremarkably, who died unremarkably, and who never amounted to much. And in many ways, that’s all true. But I'm often struck by just how remarkable it was for John to live his whole life so unoriginally, without a single story to call his own… except this one.

Perhaps I'm not as objective as I could be, because John Smith was my dad. I'll always be sad for him, knowing how desperately he wanted something more from his life, but I believe he's now gone to a better place, a place where he is a genuine, bona fide original and cherished as such. And my bet is that there will never be another John Smith. Never be another so fabulously unoriginal as he... unless, of course, it is me.

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