From retired minister Warner Davis: The Price of Great Character

It was a most unusual commencement address. Speaking at his son’s June 2017 middle-school graduation, here’s a sliver of what Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted … And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.â€Â 

What was the son was thinking? I doubt he was itching to confirm to his peers, “That was my father!†More importantly, though, what was the father thinking?

I suspect his was Abigail Adams’s frame of mind when her son dreaded a second trans-Atlantic voyage with his father (our founding father John Adams) because of the horrendous trip he had endured before. In a letter to him, she wrote, “It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed.â€

While I have never been one to welcome pain and sorrow, I concede they can ennoble your character. As some perceptive soul once said, “Can one think of great music without anguish, great poetry without sorrow, great art without agony, great living which has never opened the door to pain?â€

But how do we come to terms with hardship instead of shrinking from it? Stories of persons that stride like giants across the stage of our nation’s history help.

I read in the Wall Street Journal (June 6, 2018 edition) how most of Robert F. Kennedy’s 10 children learned of his assassination June 6, 1968. They were at their McLean, Va. home asleep at 4:44 a.m. when their father died in Los Angeles at 1:44 a.m., their mother by his side. 

Who would tell them their father was deceased? Their mother couldn’t; you don’t deliver news like that to your children over the phone. Someone had to and soon – in a short while they would be up watching cartoons only to see coverage of the tragedy. Whom do you turn to in a moment like that?

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John Glenn as far as the mother and her brother-in-law, were concerned. And so the call came from California to this friend of the family. Whereupon Glenn, in the predawn darkness, awakening the children, sat on the edge of their beds, and did, in his words, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.â€

Asked by Bob Greene, the journalist who wrote the story, why the famed astronaut was the one his family turned to, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said the answer was uncomplicated. “John Glenn had great courage, both physical and moral. But what many people don’t know is what a compassionate and tender man he was.â€

You don’t acquire that kind of character apart from trials. Hence, this clear-eyed honest prayer: “Lord, I’m not looking to suffer, have no appetite for hardship, would cheerfully excuse being overlooked for a heroic duty. Nevertheless, I ask that you enable me to accept the adversities that are sure to befall me and allow them to effect a depth of character that makes me nobler and braver in compassionate service. Amen.â€

 

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