In his book, The Noticer, Andy Andrews tells a story about an elderly man known as just Jones, meeting an older woman who was giving up on life. Being seventy years old myself I read this story several times and reading that story with the fact in mind that I had gone through a painful divorce, I decided I had to do something differently. So, I opened the Bowen Farm Bed and Breakfast in my home that I had built with the help of my former wife. A year later, I started The Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky. Both of these events made a huge change in my life for the better.
Let me share a little bit of Andrew’s story of Jones who met the older woman, Willow. It may inspire you as well.
A few comments back and forth after Willow and Jones met, Willow, with lips quivering, expressed her sincerest and sad thought of getting old. “I have outlived my usefulness. How in the world did I get so old?”
She sniffed hard, then stuck her chin in the air. “Listen to me,” she said. “Going on like a crazy person. I apologize. You must think I am terribly rude.”
“No no.” Jones said gently. “Not at all. Wrong, maybe, but certainly not rude.”
“I beg your pardon.” Willow said.
“I know you would never be rude; however,” Jones held a finger in the air “When you make a statement so patently ridiculous as ‘I have outlived my usefulness I fear I must openly disagree.”
After more conversation the author, Andrews, lets Willow add to Jones, “I simply feel that my time has passed”
“Whooowee!” Jones said in a high-pitched voice as he slapped his knee. “And aren’t we glad everybody doesn’t feel that way! The world would surely have missed out on some grand achievements.”
Jones then began to make his point. Colonel Sanders didn’t start selling his family recipe on chicken until he was sixty-five. At the time his only income was his Social Security check of $105.00 a month.”
Jones went on itemizing for Willow. Benjamin Franklin didn’t invent bifocals until he was seventy-eight, Winston Churchill was seventy-eight, having finished a couple of careers, when he wrote a book that won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
Jones continued, “Nelson Mandela was inaugurated president of South Africa for the first time – after years in that country’s prisons – at the age of seventy-five. Igor Stravinsky was still doing concerts when he was eighty-seven. Grandma Moses, the artist, did not sell her first painting until she was ninety. Michelangelo didn’t begin his work on St. Peter’s Basilica – one of the world’s greatest treasures – until he was seventy-two.
Willow still wanted to argue that it was too late in the game to make a difference. And Jones convinced Willow that as long as she was breathing that she had time to make a huge difference in someone’s life or many lives. And this huge difference can come disguised in some other way.
Jones suggested to Willow, “While it is true that most people never see or understand the difference they make, or sometimes imagine their actions having a tiny effect, every single action a person takes has far-reaching consequences.”
Jones asked Willow, “Do you know the name Norman Borlaug?” She didn’t. “Norman Borlaug was ninety-one when he was informed that he had been personally responsible for saving the lives of two billion people.
“Two billion people?” Willow exclaimed, “How is that possible.”
“Norman Borlaug was the man who hybridized corn and wheat for arid climates.” Jones answered. “The Nobel Committee, the Fulbright Scholars, and many other experts calculated that all across the world Borlaug’s work has saved from famine over two billion people…and the number is increasing ever day.”
“Incredible.” Willow said.
“Yes.” Jones agreed. “Isn’t it? But the most incredible part of the story is that Borlaug was not the person who saved the two billion lives.”
“What?” Willow asked.
“That’s right,” Jones confirmed. “I believe it was Henry Wallace. Wallace was Vice President under Roosevelt.” Wallace was Roosevelt’s Vice President during his third term. And Wallace had previously served as Secretary of Agriculture. While Wallace was Vice President he created a station in Mexico whose sole purpose was to somehow hybridise corn and wheat for arid climates. He hired a young man named Norman Borlaug to run it. So maybe it was Henry Wallace who saved two billion lives.
Then Jones told Willow, “Maybe it wasn’t Wallace that saved two billion lives. “Maybe it was George Washington Carver who saved two billion lives.
When George Washington Carver was nineteen and a student at Iowa State University, he had a dairy science professor who allowed his own six-year-old son to go on botanical expeditions with George Washington Carver. And it was Carver who gave six-year-old Henry Wallace a vision about his future and what he could do with plants to help humanity.
Moses and his wife Susan didn’t believe in slavery and they lived in a slave state, Missouri. Their being against slavery caused them big problems. Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Moses and Susan’s farm, burning their barn, shot several people and dragged off a woman named Mary Washington…who refused to let go of her infant son, George.
Jones continued to share the story with Willow. “Now Mary Washington was Susan’s best friend, so Moses sent word out immediately, trying to arrange a meeting with those cutthroats, trying to do something to get Mary and her baby back. Within a few days, he had the meeting set; and so on a January night, Moses took a black horse and went several hours north to a crossroads in Kansas.
“There, he met four of Quantrill’s men. Moses traded his only horse for what they threw him in a burlap bag/ As they thundered off, Moses fell to his knees. There in the freezing dark, with his breath’s vapor blowing hard and white from his mouth, Moses brought our of that burlap bag a cold, naked, nearly dead baby boy. And he opened up his jacket and he opened up his shirts and placed that baby next to his skin. Moses fastened that child in under his clothes and walked that baby out! Talking to that child every step of the way – telling the baby he would take care of him and raise him as his own…promising to educate him to honor Mary, his mother, who they knew was already dead.”
Jones looked intently at Willow who stared back in wonder. “That was the night,” he said softly, “that the farmer told that baby he would give him his name. And that is how Moses and Susan Carter came to raise that little baby boy, George Washington Carver.”
“So there. It was obviously the farmer from Diamond, Missouri, who saved those two billion people.”
Jones continued, “So you see, madam, we could continue this line of reasoning…And how far into the future could we go, dear lady, to show how many lives you will touch?”
“No matter your age, physical condition, financial situation, color, gender, emotional state, or belief…everything you do, every move you make, matters to all of us – forever.”
I recommend that you pick up your copy of The Noticer by Andy Andrews and read the rest of the stories.
Yesterday I cooked chili for several children from Clay City Elementary School, told them some stories and took them on a hike to the top of my mountain. Knowing all the time that I may say something about my life experiences that might make a profound difference in the life of one of those children. I could never miss an opportunity like that.
Think about it. Is there someone out there that you could have a positive influence that you haven’t met yet?