In the Star Wars three-quel, Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader famously tells Luke Skywalker: “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side” as a statement of finality and admission to the grim hold Emperor Palpatine had upon Vader’s life. Fortunately, we know that all changed shortly thereafter. Think for a moment on the power of those two lives within that fictional universe. Darth Vader: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy as one of the greatest Jedi Knights; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; too self-aware; arrogant; prideful; discontent; susceptible; a deceiver and deceived; fallen; enslaved; instrument of tyranny; destroyer of millions; redeemed. Luke Skywalker: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; humbled; learned; self-sacrificing; truthful; caring of friends and family; champion over evil; agent of redemption. Two hyperspace lanes diverged in a star system…and Luke Skywalker took the one less navigated through. Two lives, with such an effect on an entire galaxy and a far reaching legacy that bled over into (at least) the next generation.
Phil Coulson, Agent of the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD), and supporting character in the Iron Man films and, more importantly, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. One man. No special abilities. A greater hero than the Avengers combined…because he combined them. He believed in The Avengers, the heroes, when they didn’t believe in themselves. His death served as “The Push” that was needed to coalesce the Avengers into the Family of Heroes the world needed them to be in order to defeat Loki and the Chitauri invasion. Coulson knew a push was going to be needed and was at peace with and willing to have his death be that catalyst. His sacrifice saved New York City – and the world – more than Iron Man’s willingness to fly the alien bomb into space.
This is all thought-provoking and inspirational pondering; the type of fictional stories that inspire and spur on humanity; giving us hope the world will continue to spin on. Such inspirational stories in real life are rarely like this and they involve homeless men, a wake, and telephone poles even less. Nevertheless, one such story does involve a homeless man, another a wake, and yet another, a telephone pole of sorts.
Peter Bis lived on a bench near Union Station in Washington, DC. Peter Bis was an institution on Capitol Hill. Peter Bis always referred to himself in the third-person. Known by many on Capitol Hill as a friendly homeless guy who talked to everyone and actually remembered you, he recently passed away. There’s actually a memorial spot under the tree near the bench he used to sleep on where people have been leaving flowers and messages (which I recently visited). From interns to congressional power-players everyone knew him and often chatted with him. I used to see him all the time when I was an intern with the Heritage Foundation seven years ago, as his “Sheldonian Spot” – long before there was a Sheldon Cooper – was less than a hundred feet from the front door of my intern housing that Heritage provided. While saddened at his passing and the loss of this quirky institution of a man, I didn’t really grasp the extent that was Peter Bis until I realized that articles were written about him, in memorium, by National Review, The Washington Post, National Journal, and The Huffington Post (linking to a article in Roll Call). The area that many consider to the the most powerful square footage in the world – as far as power, politics, and influence goes – has mourned the loss of a homeless man; a single life who spent most of his days on a park bench. That’s inspiration.
A dear friend of mine will sometimes tell the tale of something that happened at his father’s wake years ago. A young man arrived at the wake, one my friend had never seen before. He slowly approached the casket and just stood there for what seemed an eternity. Standing there, this younger man broke; the dam burst and the emotional flood water swept forth with great intensity. My friend watched this both intrigued and mystified. As the young man turned around and walked back down the aisle my friend asked him: “how did you know my father that it would produce such a reaction?” The younger man explained: “I didn’t have a Dad growing up and your father was the only man I ever knew who took time for me, who talked to me like a man, like a son, who invested in me; I’ve never forgotten that” Therein was a life to emulate.
Telephone polls aren’t considered to be inspirational either but I happen to know one that is, it’s at Lake Ann Camp and I climbed it…and then jumped off. Even though I’ve already told the story, it’s told from my point of view. It isn’t told from the viewpoints of any of the thirty-plus people who watched it happen. Recently one of the Reborne Rangers from Alpha Week 2012, Maggie Syme, posted a picture to Facebook of what the scene looked like before my climb of that dastardly telephone pole. The caption she included with the photo said “The most inspirational moment of my life; Thank you, Aaron Welty” I saw that photo – with that caption – and I was speechless. Yes, I conquered The Leap. Yes, it was hard – seeming near impossible at moments – but I’d been through tougher things; things I’d even talked about earlier that week. In being taken so aback my this, I thought, and even said, “it’s not like I saved NYC from an alien invasion like The Avengers did.” Later, Maggie told me that she cried long and hard after seeing me make that climb and leap because it had impacted her that much. I’ll never forget, Katie Decker, another Ranger, leaning over my exhausted body as I lay face down on the ground, telling me “you just changed my life”. At the end of the week, Josiah Wyse, whose incredible story I’ve also already relayed, told me that there were two moments that week where I left him without words: one was bequeathing the lightsaber, the other was this climb.
This was a huge “lollipop moment” for some; a moment that was much more significant for them then it was for the one doing it, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for me at all.
Mind your surroundings, be aware of the power and impact of your life; be an inspiration to others and invest in them.
Reborn Rangers praying before I began my climb.