Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Great is Good Enough?

The song Sweet Caroline is running through my head.  It has been since I watched the 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors earlier this week.  This year, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond and actress Meryl Streep, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, jazz musiscian Sonny Rollins and broadway actress Barbara Cook were honored, to quote President Obama, for a "lifetime of greatness."  

So fun, right?  "Good times never seem so good; Oh I've been inclined to believe it never would."  Tell me that you listened to that and didn't smile.  No way.  

Yes, it was nostalgic amusement to listen to Neil Diamond's catchy tunes.  And an inspiring lesson in tolerance to watchYo-Yo Ma take his work around the world.  But as I watched the tributes to these great people, I was most deeply moved by how sincerely moved they seemed to be.  As the Kennedy Center honorees watched chronologies of their life's work along with the audience, their faces revealed pride, but also humility.  True appreciation.  Just the seemingly appropriate amount of awe.    

And I got to thinking ...

*How do you get to be that great?
*Did these performers set out to be great?  Was it luck that got them a lifetime of greatness?  Hard work?  Talent?  Destiny?  All of the above?
*Why doesn't determination and hard work = greatness for all people?
*Can it?

Asking these questions made me think of another catchy tune from my childhood; who remembers this one from Sesame Street?  

"Thats about the size, where you put your eyes" was intended to teach kids that big and small are relative terms.  But shortly after we met, my wise husband spinned it as a lesson on perspective about life.  Since, its this happy, silly song that pops into my mind when I need a little extra push to be able to see a glass half full.  Unfortunately, it sometimes comes through in Larry's singing voice. . . 

"Thats about the size, where you put your eyes" also reminds me of one of my favorite maxims from Pirkei Avot, the compilation of Jewish ethical teachings that translates literally as 'Ethics of Our Fathers.  (What can I say; you can take the girl out of the Jewish day school,  but you can't take the Jewish Day School out of the girl.)  Anyway, the saying goes - eizeh hu ashir, mi she sameach b’chelko (Pirke Avot 4:1) - "Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot."  

Perspective.  Maybe that is the secret ingredient to achieving greatness.  Knowing when "good enough" is "great."  Knowing that "as good as it gets" is good enough.  And since life is not going to deal most of us the kind of talent displayed by the Kennedy Center honorees - or many of us the best opportunities to cultivate our skills and interests - maybe greatness means at least aspiring to emulate their effort, and their gratitude.  

To see the good times ... as good.  

Thank you so much for tuning in one last time in 2011. Wishing you & yours a truly great 2012.  


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