So, I admit, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon – most people get on my nerves and make me grumpy. Yes, I’m a mystic – and longtime mystics are supposed to have an enlightened compassionate view of the world -but I’m one of those crazy mystics that’s bothered by the prospect of spending the next 50 years or so in a world of sleepwalkers. I also admit that, despite my better angels, I occasionally wish for a giant asteroid to crash into the Earth and end all the world’s suffering. Well, putting all that aside, there have been some people in the world I have found acceptable and likable – they wouldn’t necessarily like me, but that’s another story. Here is a list of a few members of humanity I hold in high regard.
1/ Jesus Christ
There are no good, complete biographies of this Being despite the fact that there have been more books, articles, lectures, movies, TV Shows, documentaries, plays, musicals, paintings and every other kind of media generated about Him than any other person in history. Even the Christian Gospels lack real depth about His life and activities. The Gospels aren’t so much books about Him as they are books about the people who encountered Him and were changed by that encounter. One of the key questions about Jesus is not WHO is He but WHAT is He – God, a king, a prophet, an itinerant preacher, a man? He is all those things and more. To know Him, requires a personal experience of Him and that requires meditation and prayer as well as reviewing all the available data. It is definitely worth the effort. Jesus is a True Light of the world.
As with Jesus, it is difficult to find a good, single source of information him. He was a complicated Being with wisdom that went beyond human understanding. Like Jesus, people often ask WHAT was he rather than WHO was he. But as with Jesus, it is worth the effort to try to find out all you can about his life and teaching. Buddha lived a long life and taught much, so, it is possible only through intense study and meditation, to gain a deep insight into the thoughts and career of this other True Light of the world.
3/ Benjamin Franklin
Here is a man who was fully human – not a saint or other worldly being but a man in the profound sense of the word. I see him as everyone’s favorite uncle or grandfather. Despite being granted high honors and degrees and being one of the most accomplished men of any generation, it is easy to connect with him as just plain Ben Franklin, a print shop owner from Philadelphia. A true genius, he worked in business, politics, philosophy, science, social commentary, music, activism, community service and was a true revolutionary to boot. He kept busy all his long life doing fun and amazing things. An all-around great guy who will never be forgotten.
4/ St. Joan of Arc
St. Joan was not some namby-pamby, wimpy saint – oh no, she was a warrior, a leader, a champion – a fearless defender of the faith. Battle hardened, wise beyond her years and absolutely devoted to God, she followed her vision to the very end. Ultimately abandoned by her friends, imprisoned and tortured, she held to her faith though the cost was her life. She was martyred, burned at the stake, at the age of 19 after a stunningly successful military career. She’s the saint for me.
5/ Van Gogh
I’ll make it simple – this is the greatest painter that ever lived. If you don’t love his work, there’s something wrong with you.
I suppose there are some better all-around composers – Mozart comes to mind. But Beethoven did something that no one else in any field has ever been able to do before or since his time. Beethoven generated the entire story of the aspirations of humankind – all the fear, anguish, love, passion, possibility and joy of our crazy species in one breathtaking presentation – the glorious 9th Symphony. The music is our greatest achievement. Nothing comes closer to truly representing humanity and our potential than this work. If aliens ever come to Earth and ask us who we are, what we want and why we deserve life, we can confidently play them the 9th Symphony and they will go away satisfied and awestruck.
An unparalleled genius. The greatest writer of all time – period. Yeah, some of his plays are weak and at times the writing seems rushed. But his weakest work is better than most peoples strongest. His choice and development of theme, his insights and understanding of the human condition, his use of imagery and language mark him as an immortal. If he had worked in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, he would have been declared a god.
Shakespeare is the greatest writer in general, but Dostoyevsky is by far the greatest novelist of all time. Reading Dostoyevsky is like talking to a divine being – you just sit back and marvel at the supreme brilliance of thought and word.
9/ Jacques Cousteau
Maybe not a super genius, maybe not an immortal, maybe not a world savior – but holy crap what an interesting, exciting and original human being. A combination scientist, inventor, philosopher, adventurer, conservationist, humanitarian, educator – with a burning passion for his subject – the ocean. There has been no one else that combined such an extreme level of expertise with such brilliant communication skills. He showed us clearly and spectacularly the beauty and mystery of the sea. Some of the greatest pleasures of my life involved watching his TV programs and dreaming of joining him on the ship “Calypso” in a life of adventure.
10/ T.E. Lawrence
Soldier, poet, archaeologist, adventurer, maker of nations – he packed a lot of excitement into his short life. Maybe not as brilliant as Franklin or as passionate as St. Joan – but he truly lived a life worth living and gave the world much to think about.
11/ Jane Austin
She’s not Dostoyevsky. She’s not really even a Dickens or Hardy. Her books are not those big ponderous, “important” works of literature that professors tell us we must embrace. But, damn, she’s a good read! And more than any other author I find myself going back to her books year after year, just to enjoy the pleasure of her company. She is genuine, imaginative, and confident and gives the reader exactly what she promises. I always read her books with a smile from beginning to end. Maybe more than all the people on this list she is someone I wish I could have met and talked to.
Are there other people in history I admire? Of course. Are there people currently alive that I’d like to meet? Definitely. But this short list includes people I have no argument with. It isn’t just the work they produced that I admire but the lives they led. These are people who made an impact on my life and have also greatly impacted the human population. These, I believe, are the kinds of people that define humanity, itself.