Friday, July 30, 2010

And Some Have Greatness Thrust Upon Them

I may have mentioned that I have an interest in History, and that I work in a historical building; a building whose history I am intimately involved in discovering, documenting and preserving.

Part of that history started 400 years ago. In 1610, in a village in England a son was born. His parents named him James. When he was 22 he emigrated to the North American colonies and settled in Virginia. His son James, his grandson James and his great-grandson James all lived in that same area of Virginia. His great-grandson fought alongside George Washington in two wars, including the one that made Virginia a part of a new nation in the 1780’s. His great-great-grandson James moved to the new state of Kentucky and began a new dynasty.

James number 5 became a military man as well, and had a son James, and a grandson James, number 7 in the line. James the seventh died young, leaving young James the eighth and his sister fatherless. James’ widow moved her young family to Tennessee, to be with her people. James number 8 immigrated to Texas, leaving his Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee roots behind. His son, ninth in a line extending back 300 years left Texas for Colorado, where James the tenth grew up.

This James led quite a life. An Eagle Scout and graduate of West Point, he retired from the Army a full Colonel- after serving 4 years in the South Pacific during WWII, and every other corner of the globe the Army could send him- and 30 plus years of service (including his first parachute jump at the age of forty). Then on to a second career in business and a second retirement in South Carolina. But no James number eleven.

Last month those 400 years of history ended. I never met the man that carried 400 years of history lightly on his shoulders, but we did correspond some and shared a phone call or two. He was personally responsible for almost a quarter of those 400 years himself. At the age of 95 he was mentally alert , wrote with a clear hand and quick with his data. And rightfully proud of his ancestry, which extended another 600 years beyond 1610, through French and English royalty to that great Norman, William the Conqueror.

Folks began to collect autographs as mementos of people the met, folks whom the rest of the world would know, as proof of their brushes with greatness. I have a different measure of greatness. Famous and infamous are two sides of the same coin for me. Greatness to me doesn’t always equate with famous. It’s kind of like the old camel through the eye of a needle concept; it’s easier to be famous than it is to be great and famous, and usually being famous is a more a bar to greatness than a prerequisite.

When it comes to my brushes with greatness, the last James has become my new benchmark.

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