Helen Keller. I don't think anyone could argue that she wasn't an extraordinary human being. She spent her adult life standing up for those she perceived to be the underdogs. She was a suffragist, a pacifist and appealed for the rights of those with disabilities. She is attributed with some of the most amazing quotes. This is one of my favorites. "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do." And this one,
"It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui." I could go on and on as she lectured and wrote for many years. So what made her so amazing? She was deaf and blind save a year and a half of her infantile life. She was without language or vision, no connection to humanity, almost completely alone in the dark cell of her own mind, but God sent a light through her teacher and friend Ann Sullivan, and as Helen traversed hardships most cannot even fathom, the mainstream world gained access into a world they had been deaf and blind to for generations.
CS Lewis. Just a literary genius, that's all. His mother died when he was but a boy. He grew up in his head, imagining other worlds, stories, and fantasies, never knowing that reality, like a bomb, would one day explode in his face. As a 19 year old soldier, he found himself in trench warfare. His friends dying all around him. He made a pact with his friend Paddy that if either should be killed, the survivor would take care of the deceased's family. Paddy did indeed die and Lewis held fast to his promise and cared for Paddy's mother until the day she also died. Lewis claimed Atheism as a young man, but as an adult he became a Christian, and said that he had been "very angry with God for not existing." After Lewis put his faith in God, he was filled with the most amazing knowledge that very few have ever been enlightened to. Or maybe the simplest and purest of folk know what he knew, but only he could express the truths of God with such eloquence. He once said, "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." And this... "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." I could also quote him for days on end and it would never begin to wain in significance.
Mother Teresa. It's so like God to make someone so tiny a spiritual giant. Who was the focus of her lifelong efforts? "The poorest of the poor." The kind of people most of us avoid. The unwanted and unloved, the starving, the destitute, the diseased. These are the people she felt called to feed and touch everyday. Truly she was the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. Such amazing beauty and unselfishness. She once saved the lives of 37 children as they were caught in a battle between the Israeli's and Palestinian's. This tiny, old, frail nun... actually negotiated a cease fire! Her father died when she was just 8 years old, she left home at 18 to join a convent and never again saw her mother or sister this side of Heaven. She had a comfortable teaching job in a convent, but she knew that wasn't the extent of her calling. She wouldn't be satisfied until she gave her dying breath meeting the needs of the "least of these." Listen to her words of wisdom. "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." She shared the day of her passing with Princess Diana. It always seemed to me that God was drawing a parallel for mankind to see. One person spent their life helping the needy because it was expected of her, while the others motive was love.
So what is my point in sharing these excerpts concerning these quotable few? There is no denying their significance. They made an impact, not on a few, but on the world. They will not soon be forgotten, but what made them great? They were not noble, not in the least. They were not exceedingly wealthy nor handsome... but something they shared was that they had all suffered loss. They had suffered greatly. I'm not saying they picked themselves up by their bootstraps and moved on, no that's unfair to many who suffer and can't seem to rise back up. But they did not allow their heartache or miseries to define them, instead they plowed head first into life and began to live with excellence... excellence. It's very possible they would never have accomplished the things they had without those moments of personal misery. I leave you with Helen Keller's quote.
"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming."