Louder than words.

There are many famous people whom I have a crush on. Recently, I rediscovered an early crush from my teens: Robert Fulghum. Around 20 or so years ago, I read All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten and felt my heart go a-flutter. Here was a gentle man, a thinking man, an artistic and sensitive man. I both wished he could’ve been my father and that he could take me out on my first date. My brain is an awkward place sometimes.

Throughout my life, I’ve had people make fun of my adoration of Robert Fulghum. They’ve called him treacly, overly sentimental, boring, and other things I couldn’t possibly disagree with more. It bothers me for a little while when this happens, when people I care about can’t see what an awesome guy Robert Fulghum seems to be, why he’s a mentor to me on how to live life and why my heart beats a little bit faster when I think about him.

It’s just…the voracious way he goes about inhaling life is incredibly invigorating, inspiring, and, well…sexy. His writings are all about exploring the world around him, from bugs to love to death to kids to sports to war to various cultures and customs around the world he’s lived in or visited or read about. In the book I’m reading right now alone, What On Earth Have I Done?, half is set in Crete, Greece, where he lives part of the year. It also touches on the Massai, an African tribe that lives on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border, a story from when he gave the blessing in Geneva, Switzerland for a dinner honoring people who fought for human rights, and his time growing up in Texas as a side-lined football playing teen who was awarded MVP. Not for some touchy-feely “everybody’s a winner” thing, either. It makes sense, when you look at it from a certain perspective.

And I think that’s what I love most about Robert Fulghum. His perspective. He comes from a place of constantly learning, growing, exploring, discussing, observing, sharing. His stories are not ones of complaint, of bemoaning the future of humanity, of all that is wrong in the world. Yes, he writes about difficult, terrible, painful things. But always with hope. Always to expose the commonality, the unification possible, the things we can learn and grow from. He is the opposite of bitter and I find that intoxicating. I also love that he inspires me to be a better person. I want to see the world through such excited eyes.

Here is an example of what I admire so much about him:

One of his stories is called “The Meaning of Life”. Cliff Notes version is that he is attending a two week seminar on Greek culture. At the end of the seminar, the universal end-of-class question was asked, “Are there any questions?”

Fulghum had one. “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”

Some may read this and think Fulghum was being snarky. Like at a concert when the singer asks if there are any requests and someone always yells out, “Do ‘Stairway’! WHOOOOO!”

However, Dr. Papaderos saw that Fulghum was asking in earnest. So he answered him. First he took a quarter-sized round mirror out of his wallet. Then he began to speak.

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote mountain village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

I tried to find all the pieces of the mirror and put them back together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets and behind walls. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light nor the source of the light. But light – the light of truth, understanding, and knowledge – is there, and that light will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the dreary hearts of men – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

This is why I love Robert Fulghum. He shines light into places and the reminds us through the illumination that we can do the same.

On a similar note, there’s a song from the off-Broadway musical “tick…Tick…BOOM!” It is called “Louder Than Words.”

Why do we play with fire? Why do we run our finger through the flame?
Why do we leave our hand on the stove although we know we’re in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light When the streets are dangerous?
Why does it take an accident before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don’t say the answer
Actions speak louder than words.

Why should we try to be our best when we can just get by and still gain?
Why do we nod our heads although we know the boss is wrong as rain?

Why should we blaze a trail when the well worn path seems safe and so inviting?
How, as we travel, can we see the dismay and keep from fighting?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds

Fear or love, baby
Don’t say the answer
Actions speak louder than words

What does it take to wake up a generation?
How can you make someone take off and fly?
If we don’t wake up and shake up the nation we’ll eat the dust of the world wondering why.

Why do we stay with lovers who we know, down deep, just aren’t right?
Why would we rather put ourselves through hell than sleep alone at night?
Why do we follow leaders who never lead?
Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution?

If we’re so free, tell me why? Someone tell me why so many people bleed?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don’t say the answer.
Actions speak louder than words.

And that’s honestly where I’m at right now, in most areas of my life. Words are nice. They can be pretty. They can settle in a place in the heart that wants to believe.

But actions speak louder than words.

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