Empty Sacks

Benjamin Franklin once said, “It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.”

Heed the wise words of Benjamin Franklin.

Indeed, the development of personal character, the honing of ability and competence, takes years of growing through gains and losses.

It includes sleepless nights, thankless labor, moments where quitting is not just considered but almost endorsed by the circumstances.

There are also moments of great elation and the inevitable disappointment when such mindless glee cannot be sustained and the often mundane momentum of regular life reminds you to get back in line and start pummeling away at the next challenge.

The need to not let your highs get too high or your lows get too low permeates every class of people, including the privileged few who have had lives blessed by wealth or good fortune.

There is no escaping the inevitability of conflict in your life. But how many are wise enough to learn from it instead of making the same mistakes over and over?

I’ve seen both; profiles of people whose sacks were filled to the top and some who stood lifeless and empty in the corner.

Some I knew by name, others I simply took in and they left an indelible mark in my heart and soul.

You never know where a person who can teach a good lesson may turn up though, I have learned that it is critical to stay aware and open to all.

As Burt Lancaster says to Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” — “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then, I thought, ‘Well, there will be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

I encourage everyone to open their eyes now and begin to notice, just in case the next lesson is the only day you can get that particular tutorial.

In my first year of college, I got a 6 a.m. job at the campus radio station reading news, sports scores and weather into the battered microphone at WBGU in Bowling Green, Ohio.

I reported to the building (which was three floors of classrooms with a studio at the top) at 5 a.m. to rip and read the most current stories off the AP Wire, and I’ll never forget my first week there. I reported there on day one, and a janitor met me at the door. I didn’t think anybody was up at this hour but me.

“You the new guy?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and motioned for me to follow upstairs. He keyed into the studio and showed me around and went to leave. I thanked him and asked how he took his coffee.

“Why would you want to know that?” he asked.

I said that tomorrow I would bring both of us a fresh cup.

“You’re what,” he asked, “18 years old?”

I nodded.

“And you call me sir and want to bring me a cup of coffee?” he continued.

I shrugged.

He walked away.

Around 8:45 a.m., the regular shift gang walked in. I read the news at 9 and descended the stairs into the morning sun, and at the bottom of the stairs was the janitor. He motioned to me and I followed him down another flight to the basement.

There, laid out on his desk, was breakfast for two. He gestured for me to sit and said, “Never knew a student who couldn’t use a good meal.”

I sat down to one of the best egg, bacon and cheese sandwiches I ever digested in my life and listened to this man openly and willingly tell me his life story.

He’d been a farmer his whole life, as had his father and grandfather. He and his wife were born and raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, and he had three adult sons. The farming chores were too much for him now, so he had “retired” to this janitor job to keep some income and get health benefits from the university.

He was disheartened by the kids he often met and their sloppy way of life, and my respect for him had taken him by surprise.

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