It has been a long time since I first heard this quote by Benjamin Disraeli, but it has stayed with me over the years. The 19th century British Prime Minister and statesman is widely remembered for saying, “Life is too short to be little.” I imagine there were plenty of times in his life when his own wisdom was forged and put to the test. Being a public and political figure does not come without its challenges. But then again, neither does life. It has a way of tempting us to be petty, to be afraid, to doubt ourselves, to hold a grudge, to be resentful, to be vindictive, to make a mountain range out of a molecule, to worry ourselves into a fit... to be little.
Life is too short to be little. It is full of great and grand possibilities and you do not want to miss your chance at them.
It has been ten days now since we all rose on a Friday morning and headed off to work or the day’s rounds, many of us thinking of that comforting refrain, TGIF. As the clock ticked passed four in the afternoon we wrapped up loose ends before launching into our weekend with its plans. This normal and natural conclusion to the workweek came to a horrific end for many in Virginia Beach with the shootings at the Municipal Building 2. And now, ten days later, we know much about twelve people most of us had never met.
Quita traveled the world and spoke at least two languages. The Virginian-Pilot said of her, “Playful exchanges on Facebook reveal glimpses of a woman who was adventurous, fun-loving and curious.” Tara was born in Portsmouth and graduated from Old Dominion with a degree in civil engineering. She lived in Great Neck. Mary Lou was a devoted grandmother who was planning on taking her two grandchildren to Disney World in the near future. She was a devout member of a Roman Catholic Church and volunteered as a cheerleading coach at Ocean Lakes.
Alex emigrated from Belarus in 2003 and also graduated from ODU with a degree in civil engineering. Co-workers said he was a “model professional” when dealing with the public. A friend described him as the kind of person who would do anything to help you. Alex’s twin brother, sister-in-law and niece live in Virginia Beach and their mother split time between the two homes. A friend said of Kate, “She loved her husband unconditionally, and always stood up for what was right. She was a ray of sunlight that led so many in the right direction. She was selfless, smart and, most of all, a loving mother.” Rich, the oldest of eight children and father of two sons and two-step sons, is remembered as a kind and friendly person and a leader who put the needs of others first.
Chris was a bagpiper whose affable personality reminded many of Fred Rogers. One person remembered him as “one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I’ve ever met in my life.” He was a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Kempsville and will be buried from there this afternoon. Keith, though soft-spoken, had a powerful singing voice and loved being a part of his church’s choir. Always the protector, he led seven people to safety during the shooting and was killed when he went back looking for others to help. Joshua was a loving uncle who, in 2011, published a children’s book on protecting yourself from strangers. He always had a smile on his face, but friends also say he was still recovering from the pain of a recent divorce.
Missy lived by herself in a townhouse she kept well maintained. She was married to her job and the Pittsburgh Steelers. A friend said she was still grieving the death of her parents in 2014 and 2016. She was one of those people who called her mother at the same time on the same day every week. Bobby was awarded eight different times for his service to Virginia Beach. He was a devoted family man who was looking forward to spending more time with his loved ones once he retired. Bert, a respected contractor, was known all over Hampton Roads. He thought nothing of stopping whatever he was doing to help a neighbor with a repair problem.
What strikes me about these twelve people is the bigness of their lives. They were eleven public servants and a contractor – not a collection of the famous or the influential or the affluent – just twelve everyday people. And yet, without notoriety until their tragic deaths, they lived truly remarkable lives. Sure, none were influential enough to shape the direction of world events, but each person – in his or her own way – made this world a much better place for many. Their lives, though cut short, were by no means little.
I suspect this is true for each of us. We do more than we know, mean more than we realize, and matter in ways we don’t quite understand. Today – The Day of Pentecost – the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. It manifests God’s presence in us to empower us to do special things and mobilizes us to undertake great works. The Holy Spirit is God in each one of us reminding us life is too short to be little.
Chances are you don’t think of your life as being extraordinary nor would you describe yourself as being filled the Holy Spirit. We are Episcopalians, after all. But the truth is you are both. As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus, “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (3:20). You may not ask for it and you might not be able even to imagine it, but God’s Spirit is at work in you. And because of this, your life is truly remarkable, dearly precious, and absolutely essential to the common good.
Nipping away at this reality is not the shortness of life. It is the temptation to be little. It is the temptation to be dragged down into the muck and mire of all those things that suppress the brightness of God’s Spirit in you. It is the temptation to dwell on the worst of life rather than to live into its best. It is to undersell the part you have been given to play in this grand drama of life.
I make it a point not to learn much about the perpetrators of mass shootings and I absolutely abhor how popular culture plays on our fascination with them. I shun any and every movie, book, documentary, and TV show seeking to capitalize on our lurid attraction to their heinous acts. As such, I am the last person qualified to speak on what motivates a person to commit such a horrific act. It does seem many are drawn by a desire to be known for something. They have gone through life sensing little more than their littleness and, in some twisted way, believe an act of mass murder will make them big in the eyes of the world.
Thankfully, with each sad occurrence, more and more we focusing less and less attention on the shooter and honing in on the stories of the victims. And what we are learning from them is how ordinary people are leading exemplary lives. We are learning to draw inspiration from lives tragically cut short.
The heart-breaking events of a week ago Friday only amplify the message and meaning of Pentecost which we celebrate on this day. God’s Spirit moves in each of us calling us to remember life is too short to be little. May you be aware of the power of God’s Spirit in your life working in ways that touch the lives of many.