“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
These lines fill the screen at the end of one of my favorite movies, The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, when the hapless young hero discovers he has become the father of 8 infant sons, all sired by another man.
I was reminded of them as our family, along with millions of others across the United States, sat in front of our television last week, eagerly listening to the message from our President, George W. Bush. I think we all knew he couldn’t reveal any secret war plans–plans that had probably not even been made yet. He couldn’t tell us not to be afraid or to grieve for the dead, whether they were close to us or we read their obituaries in the paper.
But it was reassuring just to hear his voice anyway, telling us that everything will be alright, that good will triumph and our side will win. It reminded me of the kind of speech my mother always gave me when my life was going wrong and I was in despair over a lost boyfriend or a failed test. I’ve often given my son the same sort of speech, even though I know very well that in truth, I have little control over his destiny.
There’s something deeply ironic about George Bush being our leader right now. One reason he wanted to win was so he could avenge his father’s loss to Bill Clinton. This was his rightful role, his personal destiny. But what looked like destiny has turned out to be more like karma, because George W. is going to have to make up for his dad’s mistake in ending the Gulf War before ending the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps that’s the difference between destiny and karma. Karma seems to refer to a road we are born to travel (although we may not travel it well), while destiny implies greatness seized from the situation in which we find ourselves. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you voted for Bush or not, I think we all saw him as a little wet behind the ears when he first entered office and wondered, secretly or out loud, if he was up to the job. He seemed to lean a little too hard on the fatherly figure of Dick Cheney in the early months of his office.
Now he’s had the toughest war since Vietnam thrust upon him. And unlike Vietnam, the outcome will affect the destiny not only of one or two countries, but of the entire world. In that sense, this war more closely resembles World War II.
Great leaders and orators came out of the Second World War. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had greatness thrust upon them and both rose to take it. The inspiring words they gave the world in those years are still widely quoted.
Has greatness been thrust upon George W. Bush? I hope so, despite the fact that I was angry about the Florida vote and I used to worry about his beliefs and laugh as he stumbled over words.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or if we can ever really win a war of this kind. But I do know one thing: We really need the leader we have right now to become great.
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