The Realm of the Good People

The time is always right to do what is right. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. – Thomas Paine

When I do good I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.  – Abraham Lincoln

Definition for “happiness”: The full use of your powers along lines of excellence. – John F. Kennedy

Let the male and female of God’s creating appear. – Mary Baker Eddy

***

I was once on a discussion board where the question came up: “Where are all the good people?”  I was new to the board, and didn’t realize that the poster was asking where all his favorite posters had gone.  I wrongly assumed he was actually asking where the “good” people are, and eagerly jumped into the dialogue to tell him:  They’re all around us, I posted. They’re everywhere. The good people we mostly hear about are the celebrity-types who donate their time and money to worthy causes, and get their names in magazines and on television for their donations.  But there are also, I wrote, many “everyday” people who are what I would call “good” people.  They live their lives with joy and humor, stopping to help someone with a flat tire, helping a short person (me, for instance) reach the can of food on the top shelf at the supermarket – without being asked – and looking at the world with courage and hope. “They can be,” I posted, “teachers, doctors, plumbers, secretaries, cashiers, policemen, firemen, Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Lutherans, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, Wiccans, teenagers, and the elderly.” It is, in fact, my belief that good people can be found in every race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age group.

This is when the poster who originally posed the question set me straight and told me that’s not what he’d been asking. There aren’t, he told me, really any good people.  He let me know that we’re all sinners, undeserving of mercy, and that it’s only by God’s good grace we’re not all doomed to hell. Or something like that.

I suppose I could have gotten in an interesting discussion with him about the differences in the way we see God’s creation – I could have maybe pointed out that right there, in the very first chapter of Genesis, it says that God created man in God’s “own image and likeness; male and female created he them” and that he saw everything he had made, and, “behold, it was very good.” I could have expressed my belief that it would be impossible for a perfect, all-loving God to create individuals that weren’t also perfectly good, and that it seemed sort of insulting to God to say that her children – made in her image and likeness – were sinners.

But I did not go there.

Instead I started my own thread, and asked people to tell me about the “good people” they’d known in their lives, and that thread became a celebration of the generosity, courage, kindness, intelligence, wisdom, and talent of Good People everywhere.

***

I first started thinking about “The Realm of the Good People” when I was reflecting on my dad’s life. He had been born in 1918 – at the end of World War I. He’d survived The Great Depression with his family, served in World War II, climbed on the highest mountains on earth, been to the South Pole, and close to the North Pole, had moved easily among world leaders, and traveled the world with a close group of fellow adventurers and explorers.  He’d worked as a photographer, cartographer, geologist, hydrologist, artist, mountain guide, ski instructor, and author. He’d moved through life with no sense of limitation about what he might accomplish or where he might go or who he might meet, and that – what I guess some might call “naïve” – sense of freedom had served him well in his life.

I had and have huge admiration for the way he’s lived his life. As I type this, he is, at the age of 93, preparing for a trip to Colorado next week to receive an award from The American Alpine club. He’s a little puzzled as to what he’s done to earn this award – but he’s glad to be getting it, and excited about the opportunity to visit with his mountain cronies.

Once I started thinking about my dad and his friends and the world they traveled, I began to look at other people around me – and I realized that there is actually a whole realm of “good people” moving amongst us. Of course, not all of them have had the kind of adventures Dad has had, but their sense of limitless freedom, and the generosity of spirit and courage with which they’ve approached their lives, have lifted them above the mundane and dull, into lives that never cease to inspire me.

My mom, for instance, was born just before The Great Depression, and somehow she and her parents and nine siblings all managed to make it through those challenging times. They came through our country’s economic crisis with a knowledge of how important community is, and how important it is to share with one another.  Mom ran track in college, was the first of the eight daughters to graduate from college, climbed Mount Rainier twice, birthed and raised three children, and has lived a long and active life. What makes this all rather remarkable is that as a youngster she’d had rheumatic fever and developed a heart murmur – something I didn’t know about until recently – and I gather she was supposed to have lived a quiet, sheltered life.  I like that she didn’t.  Beyond all her physical adventures – Mom is the most loving, open-minded person I’ve ever known.  She’s one of the “good” ones, for sure.

I am, in fact, surrounded by good people – sons, husband, friends, neighbors. People who, like my mom, have managed to create full, free lives for themselves without regard to the physical limitations conferred upon them by “experts” – or in spite of those limitations. People who, like my dad, failed to recognize that there was anything that was “impossible” to do.  There are an abundance of people who, as the wonderful old phrase goes, are “leaving the world a better place for having been here.”

I believe those people are the ones with the real power.  Mary Baker Eddy writes, “The good you do and embody gives you the only power obtainable.”  I agree with those sentiments.  And looking around and seeing all the good in the people around me, I am filled with hope for the world.

This maybe sounds naïve (but then I am my parents’ daughter, after all, and I suppose the fruit really “doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and if I sound a little naïve about what’s possible and what’s not, I guess we can blame my folks) – and I’ve hesitated to put this out there because I know there will be people who will write me off as idealistic and a little loony for saying this – but what the heck? – I’m going to say it, anyway: I really do believe that all of us are “good.” Yes, really. I think what separates people like my dad and mom from others is that they seem to recognize their capability for “good” better than others seem to recognize that ability in themselves.  I think we all have the potential to do tremendous good in our lives and in our world – we all have access to incredible power. And when we come to finally recognize that about ourselves and our fellow man, nothing will be impossible to us.

***

        God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis. – Mary Baker Eddy

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