by Danita White
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was read. I read pretty much everything: classics, history, biographies, fairy tales, mystery, comics. No genre was beyond me. And many of the books I read were soon re-read and added to a long and still-growing mental list called “favorites”. One of the books at the top of that list is titled Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life by Stephen R. Covey. The stories and messages from that book have stuck with me ever since I first read it.
The unexpected death of actor Chadwick Boseman has had me revisiting the idea of everyday greatness. Over recent weeks, so many good words have been said and meaningful tributes paid to Boseman by both strangers and those who knew him well. He is remembered as someone who radiated charisma and joy, as an artist of excellence and empathy, and as a star with beauty and grace and style and presence.
“To be young, gifted, and Black,” former President Obama wrote, “to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”
Glorious. Inspirational. Superhero. Icon. King.
A life defined by greatness – not just professionally, but personally. Not just in what the world saw of him, but in what wasn’t seen.
Chadwick Boseman isn’t great because he starred as Jackie Robinson or James Brown or Thurgood Marshall or Black Panther. He is great because he lived to his best, through physical adversity and painful health challenges. He is great because he used his God-given skill and talent to contribute to society in so many significant and artistic ways. He is great because he got up each day despite how he felt and perfected his craft and helped others do the same. To use the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he is great because he won the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, because he earned the appreciation of honest critics, because he brought out the best in others, and because he left the world a bit better than it was before.
The same can be said about another notable figure we lost unexpectantly earlier this year: Kobe Bryant.
Sure, the numerous awards, nominations, and wins of the actor and athlete, respectively, are known by all. And everyone thinks: That’s greatness! And it is. But it’s not only what they did on the screen or on the court that makes them legendary, heroic. But what they did off it. When the cameras weren’t there. Hospital visits. Surgeries. Chemotherapy. 5 AM practice sessions. Training through a torn achilles. Playing through pain. It’s also what they did for others. They understood that life was more than a movie or a basketball game. They knew that they didn’t exist for themselves alone. The lives they lived made indelible impressions on the world over.
And these days, with so much turmoil and discouragement in every headline, the idea of everyday greatness is more important than ever. It’s easy to sit back, to give up, to “let the noise of the negative minority” keep us from doing good, from being great. Easy, but not worth it if we want to live lives that matter. What we must do instead, Covey suggests in Everyday Greatness, is wake up each day with the desire to stretch ourselves in new directions, to look for worthy ways to make a difference. To get a little more out of life, and to give a little more, too.
“Most people define greatness through wealth and popularity and position in the corner office. But what I call everyday greatness comes from character and contribution,” writes Covey. “Everyday greatness is a way of living, not a one-time event. It says more about who a person is than what a person has, and is portrayed more by the goodness that radiates from a face than the title on a business card. It speaks more about people’s motives than about their talents; more about small and simple deeds than about grandiose accomplishments. It is humble.”
And if Covey is right, if greatness isn’t measured by how much money, power, or popularity one has, then greatness isn’t reserved for only the Bosemans and Bryants of the world. If greatness is measured by the content of our character and by how well we step up and make positive contributions to the lives of those around us, then we can all be great.
Great in the way we fight cancer and the way we fight COVID; in the way we love our families and support our friends. Great in the way we work and the way we play; in how well we listen and how well we learn. Great in how we fall and how we rise; in the way we fail and the way we succeed. Great in the way we agree and disagree. Great in how we pray and serve, preach and sing, teach and talk. Great at the grocery store checkout counter and in the drive-through line and on the soccer field and in the beauty salon. Great in how we treat strangers and great in the way we interact with people who look, think, act, and believe differently than we do. Great in how we pursue justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Great. In the small things. The common choices. The mundane tasks.
Great. Through sickness. Through pain. Through the unexpected.
I shall pass through this life but once.
Any good, therefore, that I can do
Or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature,
Let me do it now.
Let me not defer or neglect it,
For I shall not pass this way again.
– Etienne de Grellet