Central Idea: What we leave behind us may be greater than we ever know.
Today I would like to speak about hope. Bob Hope, that is.
As incredible as it may sound to some of you, Bob Hope has been gone for almost 17 years. He was a constant presence in American culture for almost 7 decades, and now there are whole generations who don’t have a clue who he was. Maybe for Memorial Day, you may want to watch one of the Road movies he made with Bing Crosby or look at one of his old USO shows from a combat area.
This is my favorite Bob Hope story.
Hope was visiting a Veteran’s hospital one day, walking from room to room, ward to ward, visiting and joking with the various patients. He stopped by one room, stuck his head in and joked with the man in the bed. At first, the man was totally silent. But as Hope turned to leave the man yelled: “You’re not that funny! Hope turned around abruptly. “You’re not that funny!”
Ouch! Hope ignored this slur, giving the man the benefit of the doubt, after all, he was a veteran, he was a patient. As he was leaving the hospital, Hope thanked all the the doctors and nurses and then he joked about his one rather vocal negative critic. It is then that one of the doctors enlightened him: “Mr. Hope,” the doctor said, “I don’t think you realize what just happened. That man who yelled at you in there… hadn’t spoken a single word for two years.”
The story was for Bob Hope an indication of what his work meant and how far his voice was heard, even into the secret depths of the mind of a silent victim of war.
I don’t think we realize how deeply what we do affects others, for good or for naught. In my classes when I talked about sin, I mentioned that the truly demonic and diabolic part of sin is that its effect lives and lingers long after we are gone. Just look at the damage caused by pollution or child abuse. I once read a book about jerks (they didn’t use the word ‘jerk’) in the workplace. In the book it said that it takes, at least, five good healthy people to offset the actions and attitude of just one negative person. Nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts. Negativity can do a ton of damage.
But what we truly forget is that the good things, the positive things we do also can have a long lasting effect, way beyond what we see. As a teacher, I had to be convinced that someday a class, a lesson, an idea, a word I teach may end up changing not only my students’ lives, but the lives of everyone they meet and so on. Just recently one of my former students commented on Facebook about how one single thing I did in my class made an impact on her to this day. And these things occur beyond our imaginings, beyond the normal set ways we think things go. Who knows what was going on in the mind of the man that Bob Hope visited, who knows the pathways of thought, sensation and change.
All this should give us both pause and optimism. It should help us to look beyond the immediate effects, what I like to call the tyranny of the instantaneous, and see at a deeper level. It should demand that we go further than the superficial and shallow, that which the world seems to worship and adore.
That is the essence of what we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord. Jesus’ most profound effect was long after he departed from this realm and entered into his Father’s glory. In a very strange, but very real way, in his absence, he becomes more important, more vital, more essential, more genuine and, dare I say it, more present. Jesus leaves to become closer to us than we can ever imagine.
The same is true of our lives. Today, I would like for you to reflect upon the people whose lives you touch, the people that have come in and out of your lives, the people possibly who have left you or those you have left. What legacy, what heritage have you left them? What have they left you? And may we realize the power that we have in our lives to either do immense damage or great good.
May what you leave behind most of all, be hope.