By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News
— Whatever we do, we evidently need a lot of encouragement.
It won’t take long before some media outlet will offer a presentation designed to, well, inspire you to dream, to strive, to keep on keeping on, however one wants to describe the feeling that discourages a person from abandoning hope and by extension wrecking the economy, rending the nation’s social fabric and becoming one of the alleged 47 percent that doesn’t pay taxes.
That’s how the Olympics are offered the viewer. It’s why we cheer the progress of the wounded veteran, the climb of the down-and-outer, the return of someone like football player Michael Vick, a guy who values the concept of second chances. Someone else’s struggle is, in part, a reason to continue our own.
General Motors offered, not long ago, “A Buick to believe in.” A guy ran for president, a few years ago, offering little more than “hope.” Cable television is awash in retrograde programming whose underlying message is the benefit of fresh starts. Our passion for mobility extends beyond cellphones; the divorce, the bankruptcy, the liposuction, the move to another town, the attitude adjustment, the sign-up for college, are as quick and easy as we want to make them. “Fresh start” is so ingrained in our culture there are products, ministries and foundations by that name.
Well, what do we do with all this inspiration, all this hope, all these examples of someone else’s overcoming of obstacles? Some of it we apply to personal situations; in other cases we are impressed, then depressed when it’s not happening to us.
You likely don’t want or need hard-won advice from an old man, but here it comes anyway: In general, if you can genuinely observe an advantage in an opportunity, go for it. Back when I worked in a local factory it occurred to me I could not attend, part time, law school: too hard, too complicated, too expensive, too many time constraints but mostly too hard. (I broached the idea among work colleagues: Attend law school and spend a career suing our current employer. I had clients before I even filled out the application for school.)
Nope, never did it. Put it in the bin in my mind that contained winning the Grand Prix of Monaco and playing right field for the Yankees. It wasn’t long after that I read a story in my union’s national newspaper of a guy who did achieved exactly what I had pondered and abandoned. Full-time factory worker gets law degree.
So what do we, who think a good house cleaning is all we need for Step One on the road to success, learn from stories of amputees blending in unnoticeably, Paralympic swimmers, heartbreaking Oprah sagas, tales of immigrant success, turn-your-life-around motivators? Maybe all we learn is to be dissatisfied.
Try a biography of a life well-lived.
Robert Silsby died earlier this summer after a long, busy and apparently satisfying life. I attended his memorial service in the auditorium of Kenmore West High School last weekend.
Silsby made an interconnected career of teaching, writing, serving on committees that actually had some benefit, raising a family of children who value education and traveling the world, but mostly teaching. His part-time project took a mere 28 years to complete, the definitive book on the history of the Town of Tonawanda. Along the way he clearly made a difference.
Everyone makes a difference, for better or worse, but it’s more evident with teachers. The teacher who inspired is more easily identified than, say, the designer of the seat belt that saved your life, and clearly, not every teacher in one’s experience was a positive force. It did not take long, though, in this short memorial service, to observe the impact this man had on local lives.
Inspiration comes cheap these days, and is fleeting. A Hollywood movie can motivate a person to pursue a career (“All the President’s Men” and “Broadcast News” seem to be fulcrums on which a lot of people hung their futures). Then again, look at Silsby’s life, full of doing exactly what he wanted to do, yet full of helping the people he met along the way.
Granted, a look at that kind of life doesn’t translate to television as well as a one-legged marathon runner or a rags-to-riches story, but television is of the moment. Life is a lifetime.