The Daredevil, The Intellect and the Mench


I have been contemplating the recent deaths of three people; Steve Fossett, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Baba Amte. While the first two are well known in the U.S. the latter distinguished his life in a more saintly fashion. In different ways I hope to become more like each of them.

Steve Fossett made a fortune by his early 40s on the options exchange. For a man known to seek challenges of height and speed  one would assume he was a trader. No, he made his money renting seats on the Chicago and NY exchanges.

He also had a list of things to achieve which showed that he dreamed great dreams. According to The Economist, “Mr Fossett had typed out a list of things to do that included…doing all the World Loppet cross-country skiing marathons, swimming the English Channel and climbing the highest mountain on each continent. He did them all, except for climbing Everest, for which he found he did not have the patience. But he also took part in the Le Mans 24-hour car race, the Boston Marathon and the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. He performed the fastest sail circumnavigation, the fastest sail transatlantic crossing and the highest flight in a glider, nine miles (15.5km) above the Andes. By sea or by air he set 116 records, of which 60 still stand, sewing them up (ever the keen Eagle Scout) like badges on his arm.” He also sailed around the world in a balloon, not letting several failed attempts stop him.

And yet the magazine also had this description of him, “You could tell by the look of him that he was no thrill-seeker: a plump man, even plumper in a pressurised suit, who had to breathe in sharply to wriggle into the tiny capsules on his record-breaking craft, and whose thin grey hair lifted in the wind as he struggled out again. You could tell it, too, by his soft unhurried voice. There was no self-promotion, only method and doggedness.”

Doggedness? I am not sure that one can eliminate thrill seeker from the description. Look at the things he did. My wild aspirations go no further than biking in hills, breaking the 18mph mark and having some cool SCUBA adventures. My regular list has more to do with losing the 15 extra pounds I carry and doing enough yoga so I can touch my toes. I have much to learn from him. Or would if he had not been lost after leaving his home in one of the least adventurous of his flying machines, a single engine Bellanca Super Decathlon. He was declared dead on February 15 at the tender age of 63. I aspire to his sense of adventure.

William F. Buckley, Jr. died at age 82. He needed the long life to work his way through his voluminous vocabulary. According to the New York Times he “marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse”.  I may not have agreed with his politics but I loved to hear the man speak.

I do not go for the loquacious speaker but the times I heard William F. pontificate, I never considered him verbose. Just magnificently educated, elegant and insightful. It almost, and I mean almost, made me want to be a Conservative.

This man wrote book, founded The National Review and for many years had his own show “Firing Line”  which ran from 1966 to 1999. It became the longest running program with a single host — beating out Johnny Carson by three years. He sailed across the Atlantic at age 50 (I am 2 years too late) and wrote novels. When do people like him sleep?

The part I most admired about him was the intellect and the style he brought to his opinions. He was the anti-Limbaugh. Is there a Conservative in the media today that does much beyond attack and rant? I aspire to his eloquence.

Baba Amte was born into a wealthy Brahmin family in India in 1915. For a time he was a successful, highly paid lawyer. He began to change, to find out how the less fortuate lived.

And then one day his world changed. As described in The Ecomnomist, ”

HE HADN’T meant to touch it. As he grubbed in the rain-filled gutter to pick up dog shit, human excrement and blackened, rotten vegetables, stowing them in the basket he carried on his head, he brushed what seemed to be a pile of rags, and it moved a little. The pile was flesh; it was a leper, dying. Eyes, nose, fingers and toes had already gone. Maggots writhed on him. And Murlidhar Devidas Amte, shaking with terror and nausea, stumbled to his feet and ran away.”

This encounter led to a lifetime of helping lepers. He worked in leper clinics. Then he founded an ashram (a secluded residence of a religious community and its guru.)  “It was called Anandwan, “grove of joy”; its philosophy was that lepers could be rehabilitated not by charity, nor by the begging life in railway stations and on streets, but by hard work and creativity, which would bring self-respect. Not by tears, but by sweat, Mr Amte wrote once, and noted how similar those were.

By his death around 3,000 people lived at Anandwan. The farm grew millet, grains and fruit; in the schools, lepers taught the blind, deaf and dumb; there were colleges, two hospitals, workshops and an orchestra, where popular songs were conducted by a polio victim. Warora townsfolk, who had shunned the ashram in its early years, had learnt to buy its vegetables and drink its milk without fear of contagion.”

I can think of no greater descriptor for this incredible man beyond that of Mench. I aspire to his selflessness.

Three men, unique in their own ways, have left us in the month of February 2008. But for a combined 238 years they created legacies like few before them. Somethings to aspire to be.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

One Response to The Daredevil, The Intellect and the Mench

  1. Frank says:

    Beautiful, man. Three people to be highly admired. Goals and ethics. And a beautiful lesson.

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