For years, I’ve subscribed to Gail Blanke’s little email doses of optimism and encouragement: Monday Morning Motivators. These brief stories and reflections arrive in my inbox and often are just what I need to turn my engine over for the first time on the slowest morning of the week. A recent one struck me as so insightful that I’ve incorporated its core idea into a speech I’ve been giving recently at places like The University Club and Georgetown University.
In “The Two Most Important Days In Your Life” she writes about being born, physically and then, later, deeper down, on the inside, in your character. Being born happens to all of us. It’s the mysterious gift that gets it all going. It’s the offer you can’t refuse. Discovering why you were born is a whole different ball game. For many people, it never happens. They drift. They make do. They try to simply keep up with a daily routine that’s makes ceaseless demands on their time and mental capacities, without an internal sense of direction or purpose. I’ve been there. The most formative part of my childhood in Romania was an endless, daily attempt to simply keep up with the senseless demands of my taskmasters. Yet when I recall that experience, I also remember ways in which I discovered a sense of meaning in that ordeal: I told myself that I would work harder and better than anyone expected, so that people who didn’t actually care about me would start recognizing my worth. It was an illusion. I know this in retrospect, but at the time it was an act of self-preservation. It was a way to survive. It was a step toward that second most important day in my life. It was my first real act of faith: believing in myself, which prepared me to believe in something larger than myself. But it wasn’t until years later that I discovered a genuine sense of meaning. It was when I realized that the second most important day of my life is actually every day: because every time I wake up I have to start making choices between good and evil. My first faith was in hard work. My mature faith is in the power of goodness itself, which has supported and still supports me: how it builds and ramifies its energy though daily choices.
In her Motivator, Gail describes how, last year, faith gave teacher Antoinette Tuff the courage to help prevent a massacre when she talked Michael Brandon Hill into lowering his gun at Ronald E McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Georgia. He might have killed hundreds of people, but Tuff prevented it. She had been through enormous personal trials and had emerged as a woman whose ability to love others expressed itself in that crisis as an instant empathy with the troubled young man. Her sympathetic words disarmed him because behind them was her genuine love for another human being in immense pain. She had that ability because she had faith in something greater than herself, something more important than her own safety and her own life. Because of her own spiritual ordeal, she knew her purpose in that moment was to risk everything to save others.
Few of us will ever face a moment like that. Rather, we face it in the ordinary day-to-day choices that add up to essentially the same thing: we sacrifice some personal desire in order to have money to feed our children. We go to work in the morning when it’s the last thing we want to do. We let someone else go through the door first. We refuse to buy the new car to put away money for our daughter’s college education. These things matter. They add up. They snowball into an energy that can make life better for everyone. After the day you’re born, the second most important day of your life is every day you’re alive, once you realize the choice to make the world a better place is there in every choice you make.