In the presence of greatness

Last Friday, I had the privilege of hearing our governor address a room full of newspaper professionals.

I’m not commonly a fan of speaking politicians, and Governor Vilsack’s convention speeches usually leave me in need of a dose of caffeine. Regardless, last Friday, he had my attention.

Vilsack spoke about education reform and teaching our children to foster their creativity, but the most awe inspiring part of Vilsack’s speech for me was when he said he was “in the presence of greatness.” Vilsack was not complimenting Iowa’s newspaper professionals. He wasn’t speaking about a recent engagement with our elected politicians.

He was speaking about a new widow who had just lost her husband to the service of our country. Vilsack, who says he makes a point of calling the relatives of Iowa’s fallen soldiers, had recently had a conversation with a new American widow.

Vilsack told his audience that this widow’s husband, a helicopter pilot, was faced with the choice of saving himself and his copilot or the 17 soldiers in the back of the helicopter. The soldier chose to save the lives of his soldiers. The widow, who could have easily and understandably displayed anger or sadness, said this instead to our state leader: “Those men needed my husband more in that brief moment than I will need him the rest of my life.”

“I knew that I was in the presence of greatness,” said the governor.

This widow knew the importance of patriotism. She knew the value of her husband’s life. She knew that he had died honorably, and she had the strength to understand.

And our governor, who may often be considered great in his own right, recognized that this lonely widow was among the nation’s heroes and that he should honor her presence.

Since that Friday speech, the phrase “presence of greatness” has been dancing around in my head.

It’s hard to miss the “presence of greatness” when there are professional titles and cameras and guards and standing ovations. But how often do we realize that we’re in the presence of greatness when we run into a patriotic widow? How often do we honor the strength of someone who has defeated cancer? Do we make time to honor those with the courage to fight for their rights regardless of the consequences?

How often do we see that nearly every person in our lives should be honored for some part of themselves – their own greatness?

I challenge you to open your eyes a little wider in the next couple weeks and look for the unexpected.

May you too find yourself “in the presence of greatness.”