This is the perfect time to write about why I’m such a history nut. I’m in a rotten mood because my office technology is on the blink, keeping me from getting things done.
People with OCD don’t just shrug off such things. We zero in on the problem like the proverbial laser beam, trying anything and everything to fix the problem until, exhausted and bewildered, we realize what we knew in the first place — that some things are beyond our control no matter how much we’d like to make it so.
Now that I’ve found my bearings and poured another cup of coffee, I’m ready to sit back and let the IT professionals do their thing.
What does all this have to do with history? Plenty.
Yesterday I wrote about all the pictures and statues of historical figures I have scattered across my desks at home and in the office. Today is about why these people are important to me.
Bottom line: The historical figures I revere all had to overcome disease, mental illness and personal tragedy through the course of their lives. I look up to them because they dealt with challenges greater than anything I will probably come across in my own lifetime. And they achieved what they achieved despite crippling personal setbacks.
I’ll stick with six examples, though there are many more:
Teddy Roosevelt was a sick kid who wasn’t expected to live a very long life. He had serious asthma and other ailments. His first wife died giving birth to his first child the same day his mother died in the same house. Yet he went on to fame as the Rough Rider and President of the United States. He wrote countless books throughout his life, went on a danger-filled journey to South America to map The River of Doubt after he was president and already in declining health.
FDR was a pampered child whose world view changed when he was crippled by polio in 1921. A lot of people would have given up right there, but he rebuilt his life, became a mentor to other polio victims and was the longest-serving president in history, dealing with war and economic calamity that could have broken the spirit of healthier leaders. Through it all, he carried on an outward cheeriness that put people at ease.
Abraham Lincoln has been covered at length in this blog. He suffered crippling depression his whole life and lost two of his four children, all in a time before anti-depressants were around.
JFK had plenty of flaws. But he achieved much for a guy who spent most of his life in bad health. He suffered searing back pain, intestinal ailments, frequent fever and he had to see two siblings die and another institutionalized before his own death.
Winston Churchill held his nation together and led it to victory over the Nazis despite a lifetime of suffering from crippling depression, which he often called his Black Dog. He also spent every waking moment in a constant buzz and smoked long cigars that I’ve tried but couldn’t handle.
Now for the most important example of all:
As mentioned before, I’m a convert to the Catholic Faith and would be nowhere today without it. Jesus appears sixth because I wanted to save the best for last.
The picture above speaks volumes to me. Here was a man who went through suffering of the most brutal kind. And he did it to give me and everyone else a second chance.
I don’t dare put myself in the same light as these individuals. I relate to what some of them went through in their lives, though, and here’s the point:
When work isn’t going the way I want or I’m going through an episode of depression or other compulsive behaviors, I can look up to the people tacked to my workspace walls and be reminded that my troubles are nothing compared to what the REALLY BIG ACHIEVERS went through.
And when my ego blows its banks, the sixth fellow on the list is there to take me down a few pegs and remind me of where I fit in the larger order of things.