Living Out Loud… Quietly

Posted by Melvin Bray on October 11th, 2004 filed in Home-Training

I’ve had my share of recognition in life yet have never really understood or valued it.

For a few years I had the weekly privilege of appearing on local public TV. In fact, I was awarded an Emmy® for the work I did in my first year (it was all downhill from there).

As a result of my time on television (the show was MindBusters, a homework-help program) I was once given the greatly undeserved honor of being stopped in the middle of the street by a van of school children in order to sign autographs. Go figure.

I have received praise as a teacher and a principal in my brief career.

I have even made it into the local paper at least 3 times, and I am proud as a black man that not once was it for something negative.

All of this has happened before the age of 30.

Still I have never been motivated by the opportunity to gain recognition. My motivation has always been to have as meaningful an impact as I possibly could on the lives of those I work with. Thus, I had no trepidation when I was inspired to leave my job as a principal of a small private school and launch a home-school tutoring initiative to make home-school a more viable option for thoughtful parents—particularly parents of color.

I cannot say that my father has shared my lack of anxiety regarding this most recent endeavor. In fact, he has been more than a little concerned about my non-profit endeavors over the years. From early on he made it known that he preferred me to be a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman—something where the pay were good, my position were secure and I were duly recognized for my efforts. I think he saw in me the potential to be great at something, and he didn’t want me to miss out on it.

Me, on the other hand, I have always wanted to be a pastor, a teacher or some other type of social service worker. Even for the brief time that I did consider becoming a doctor or a lawyer, it was only to serve the people who could least afford it. And it’s entirely my mother’s fault.

My mother has always been a care-giver (at least for as long as I have known her). Kids often bring home animals, to which their parents sigh and shrug. As a kid, I would come home to find that my mom had invited the such-and-such family to stay with us for a while. When it wasn’t that, it was watching her go shopping for seniors (when we sometimes didn’t have much food ourselves) or riding with her to take so-and-so to the hospital (when often we were low on gas) or sharing money with another single-mom (when we seldom had enough for ourselves). For all of this and much, much more she has seldom, if ever, received any recognition, but that has never mattered to her. She has always been content just to serve: as if the opportunity to do so held within it its own reward.

So there I’ve been all my life—torn between my parents’ dreams for my life. On the one hand there’s my father who loves to see me shine. On the other there’s my mother who wants me to make a difference. Coincidentally, I now find myself tutoring two young men who represent both ends of this spectrum. One has lived his short life thus far chasing the dreams of stardom that have become the aspirations of so many. The other’s compulsion to be of assistance runs so deep that it has at times gotten him into trouble.

My own home-training has given me the divergent perspective to understand both of them. However, in order to have the depth of impact I hope to have on both of them, I could no longer teeter-totter between my parents’ seemingly opposing philosophies about life. The Good Book says one must honor both his father and his mother. What was I to do?

What I have found is that I don’t need balance; what I need is range—the ability to function out of the mix of the two philosophies that is most appropriate for the situation at hand. That will be the only way I can reach and teach both my students how to develop the range in life they’ll need. Now I see that the sometimes divergent views my parents have aren’t as mutually exclusive as they once seemed to be.

How does this small epiphany regarding my own home-training translate into practical living thus far? Well, I’m still working that out. One practical manifestation of my newly discovered range is this series of essays. I’ve decided that it would be selfish of me to put all this work into growing kids into healthy, wholesome, balanced, intelligent and mature adults, committed to making positive contributions to the world; to watch it pay off time and time again; and to not share what I’ve witnessed with others. The trifling and worthless gets plenty of press.

Even though the impact I’m seeking to have is a quiet, long-term investment, I want to live out loud with it. It’s a simple life—guided by principle, driven by purpose and filled with virtue—but from what I’ve seen it’s the only type of life worth living. It’s the only play at “greatness” I plan to make. So like the old gospel song says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… Let it shine… Let it shine… Let it shine!” Who knows? It just might catch on.

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One Response to “Living Out Loud… Quietly”

  1. Phillip Says:

    Melvin,

    Your simple life that is “guided by principal, driven by purpose, and filled with virtue” will positively affect a lot of people, ultimately giving you the “range” that you seek. Hopefully, your life and the decisions that you have made will be an inspiration to others. You are defintely an inspiration to me-keep it up!!!!

    Luck

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