The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


My father died quite suddenly as he and mom were returning from one of his buying trips to the Orient.  They were having breakfast on the patio of the hotel restaurant in Hawaii where they were staying for the day.  Suddenly, dad fell over.  He was dead of a massive myocardial infarction.

Mom became hysterical – not only at the loss of her husband but at the swiftness with which death took him.  The hotel’s doctor had to sedate her to keep her calm and it was only after the medication began to take effect that she regained the presence of mind to call and let me know what had happened.  I made arrangements to fly to Honolulu the following morning.

I realized that I was going to have to take charge of the situation and make the necessary arrangements because mom was simply too emotional to think rationally.  That was so unlike her but her grief had overwhelmed her customary sensibility.

So we had dad cremated in Hawaii and planned on having a memorial service back in New York.  Dad wanted his ashes scattered in the Sea of Japan and his Japanese Agent, Yoshinori Yassuda performed the service according to his Shinto beliefs.

Mom and I tried to get on with our lives as best we could as a two person family.  At least mom had her business to keep her occupied and having something to focus on other than the emptiness of the apartment helped her through this time.

And then the letters started to arrive.  This was at a time when people would actually take the time to sit down, find a nice piece of stationery and write down their thoughts.  A lot of people had a lot of thoughts because over the next three months mom received over two thousand letters from people who had known my father.

In those days news was anything but instantaneous.   An ordinary person’s death was known only through an obituary notice or by word of mouth.  The letters that mom received were from people with whom my father had business dealings over the course of his lifetime.  In some cases they had been written by individuals who had not dealt with dad for over twenty years.  But they remembered him and cared enough to take the time to share their thoughts with my mother.

There was a theme to these letters.  In essence they all said “Your husband was a wonderful man and a friend.  Whenever I placed an order with him I knew that he was going to take great care of me.  I knew that I could count on his word being as good as gold – if not better.  He was a gentleman and a kind human being.  I grieve with you for your family’s loss.”

The letters started to trickle in – and then as the word spread they arrived in greater number, increasing day by day – to the point where the letter carrier had to bind them together with rubber bands and leave them with the building superintendent as they were too thick to put in our mailbox.  All those good wishes from so many strangers – each well-intentioned and each so painful for mom to read. 

Well this was many years ago – long before the internet had come into being.  As a matter of curiosity I went to Google and typed in dad’s name.  Nothing was returned by the search – other than some suggestions that I might try this or that spelling or did I mean this?  I guess I wasn’t really surprised at the result.

We live in an age where we measure our prestige by how many people click the “Like” or “Friend” buttons on the social networks.  We have lost an understanding of the distinction between quantity and quality.  We equate being accepted or admired by large numbers of people as a validation for our lives – rather than taking the responsibility to validate our lives through our words and deeds.  We have lost the meaning of caring and sharing and loving.  We have surrounded ourselves with the trivial and have excluded from our hearts those things that are of true importance.

In this context, I am grateful that my internet search yielded no results for my father.  I learned things of far greater value from him than I was ever taught in school.  And I will never believe that this kind and loving man was “a person of no importance.”


Comments on: "A PERSON OF NO IMPORTANCE" (21)

  1. How lucky you are to have such a family, and what a nice post.

    My father died in an accident when he was only 52. Because we had obviously had no advance warning, the services were put together in a hurry. Still, people passed the word along, and when we showed up at the funeral parlor, we found that the directors had placed speakers outside to accommodate the large number of people who arrived. The procession to the cemetery was several miles, and the cars covered every inch of it, with more waiting.

    My dad was a “person of no importance” as well. But everyone who ever met him loved him, and that is the true measure of a person.

    • Thank you for sharing the story about your father. In some way I believe that both these men did change the world – because we are here to write about them. The lessons we learned from them still influence our lives and those whom we meet along the way.

  2. Amazing story here. Very well written!

    I agree with how you see society today (as I click the “like” button on your post) 😀
    Blessings always

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Scott.

      I am reminded of a story that when the late Gertrude Berg was going to do a one woman show off-Broadway, the night of the preview there wasn’t anyone seated in the theater to see the play. Nonetheless, being the professional that she was she gave her performance all the talent that she could bring to the show.

      Afterward a critic came up to her and asked, “Aren’t you disappointed that there was no audience to see your show?”

      She replied, “I’m sorry but you’re mistaken. There was God and myself. Not a bad audience that.”

  3. Over 2000 letters. That is really staggering and clearly indicates how many people your father impacted. Wow.

  4. The emphasis you give that quality is more important than quantity shines though your many posts. It is a philosophy I wholeheartedly accept. It was interesting you thought of doing an internet search to check out any reference to your father. I’m going to check that out on my own father’s name. My father would have felt very comfortable as a friend of your father as he had the same urge in life to make a difference and to treat people with the respect they deserved no matter their culture or creed. Thank you for this useful advice.

  5. Dad was probably one of the least judgmental people I have ever known. He never refused to give a “bum” a handout – seeing him not as someone who was beneath him but merely as another human being who needed help. And his advice to me after giving the unfortunate man some money was always the same – “There but for the grace of God go you or I.”

  6. Finnbar 5000 said:

    Touching, very touching — life was really more human, before the search engines and social status seeking quick-turn-around of this google age, i really loved this remark:

    “We live in an age where we measure our prestige by how many people click the “Like” or “Friend” buttons on the social networks. We have lost an understanding of the distinction between quantity and quality.”

    the whole paragraph was profoundly accurate,

    your father certainly was of true importance, thank you for sharing such a quality read, and heart felt story.

    • Thank you Finnbar for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad that you appreciated the post and share my feelings on our efforts to continue to de-personalize ourselves. I don’t know where it will all end – but will struggle to the best of my abilities to resist it. That’s the least I can do in memory of my father.

  7. “Like” or “Friend” on social networks carry no weight for me, more important is what people say/write – even if only a smiley.

    Your father must have been a wonderful man. I subscribe especially to his word been better than gold. I was brought up with a firm belief in standing by one’s words – and was sorely disappointed by people who treated even written contracts casually, let alone their word.

    “There but for the grace of God go you and I” – something to hold close to our hearts.

    Thank you for this sharing. Peace, Eric

  8. You know those letters would be a beautiful book and tribute to your father. Add in some pictures and thoughts of your own. People grieve every single day. And they could relate. Just a thought…

  9. Thank you, Jennifer. Great suggestion. I’ll work on that.

  10. What a wonderful story and message you have shared, thank you! I agree with what you said about measuring prestige by the click of a button. Sometimes, I miss the older days..I am sorry for your loss, though years ago, but your memories will keep your Father in your heart~again, this is a beautiful tribute..

    • Thank you for your response, Lauren. I’m glad that this touched you. Hopefully I Iearned enough from my parents to hope that when I pass from this world I will be remembered by some as another “person of no importance.”

      • I don’t know you, but after reading this post, I felt compassion and love and I’m sure you have learned all you need from your parents. As we chat on this blog, I can already tell you will not leave this world as a “person of no importance.”

      • I agree with Iscotthoughts. Juwannadoright—there is no way you’ll leave this world as a person of no importance. You sure make me think! That’s already changing my world, which will influence and benefit others as I make my way through this ant parade. 🙂

  11. My family set a high standard for me to emulate. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. However it all turns out, at least I am priviliged to have wonderful examples to follow.

  12. Thank you Jennifer. I cannot adequately describe the warmth I feel from your making that statement.

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