Sunday, November 21, 2010
Dependability: Requiem for a Man Named Smith
--Tyrone Dayhoff, about Neil Alan Smith
Here on TTV, we have explored virtues as they shine through the lives of renowned scholars, authors, saints, mystics, popes, military greats, and famous athletes. But really, as I explained back at Zoongide’ewin, it is my contention on this journey that, just as within every tree we’re bound to catch sight of at least one or two birds, likewise the life of virtually any person can give us a glimpse of great qualities.
So on that note, today I dedicate our essay to Neil Alan Smith, who died on Sept. 18 in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of 48 after a hit-and-run accident on his bicycle. Mr. Smith was not a famous naval hero, a Sufi mystic, nor an athletic champion. He was a dishwasher who lived in a trailer park. And after an initial obituary ran in the local paper, some bored commentator posted that a man working as a dishwasher at the age of 48 was “better off dead.”
The staff of the St. Petersburg Times, horrified at this indifference to the value of every life, wrote an in-depth commentary about Neil’s life, here. And no, they didn’t turn up any forgotten acts of dramatic heroism or “greatness” in Neil’s life: no babies rescued from a burning building, no trove of money quietly saved up for bequeathing to a worthy cause, no hidden cache of breathtaking works of art.
What they found was Dependability--a man who carried out his job without complaint, year in and year out for over a decade, with no raise above minimum wage in all that time. His ten-year bonus was to filch a pair of beers from the restaurant fridge. And yet despite his Poverty (or, perhaps, because of it), he showed Generosity: On one occasion, when his landlord thought the electricity would be cut off from her property, he gave her more than enough money to keep the power on, and insisted she keep the extra.
When I contemplate the scant details of his life, other virtues occur to me, such as the Jainist virtue of Saucha (Contentment); the Lakotan virtue of Unsilciyapi (Humbleness); the Jewish middot (virtue) of Miyut Sichah (Cutting out small talk). It makes me wonder what more might have been found in the life of Neil Alan Smith, had there been time and attention to notice.
As a doctor, sometimes I feel the entire world eventually makes it way to my doorstep--or, rather, my exam room. I have auscultated the hearts of wealthy celebrities who jet on high, and of humble folk who cleave to the ground--and everyone in-between. As above, so below: The virtues can be found in every heart, in every life, even in the animals.
The Divine calls out to us like a heartbeat, and it never, ever stops. Every face you see, every hand you shake is a portal to Her. Moment after moment we can hear this Calling, if we give that pulse the attention of Samā, of Worshipful Listening. Believe this. Count on it. Depend upon it.
May we see the gates of Dependability, and perhaps make a home there.
And Neil Alan Smith, rest in peace, and know that we honor you.