Ben Stein is three years older than I am, but the circles in which he has run are light years from mine. He is a writer and actor who visits with Samuel L. Jackson and Warren Beatty and I once ate with John Stott and another time sat at a table with Malcom Muggeridge. However, despite our social and cultural differences, the circles in which our thoughts roam are surprisingly close together. In his closing article for E! Online, How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today’s World?, Ben said that Hollywood actors and celebrities were not really stars; they “can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.” Instead, following in the tradition of the post 9/11 elevation of those who lay their life on the line for our safety, he said that police, firemen, soldiers, and others performing similar duties are the real stars. Some examples of real stars to him are:
A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world. Some examples from his article include:
A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.
A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.
There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament. The policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive. The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery. The teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children. The kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.
Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.
Now you have my idea of a real hero.
Then Ben Stein said something that absolutely surprised me.
Last column, I told you a few of the rules I had learned to keep my sanity. Well, here is a final one to help you keep your sanity and keep you in the running for stardom: We are puny, insignificant creatures.
We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves.
In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.
After that revelation, Ben tells us what caused this epiphany in his life.
I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin–or Martin Mull or Fred Willard–or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.
But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life.
I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister’s help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.
This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.
I am reminded of the indictment made by Jesus in Matthew 25:42-45 of those who do not think and act like Ben Stein.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
I share your convictions Ben and I wish you Godspeed Ben Stein, Godspeed.