Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Touching Words...

For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column called 'Monday
Night At Morton's' (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known to
be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe.)

Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his

Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time.

Ben Stein's Last Column...


How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

As I begin to write this, I 'slug' it, as we writers say, which means I
put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is
'eonlineFINAL,' and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing
this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I
loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would
never end.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person
and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's,
while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to.
It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars.
I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit,
and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty
in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a
super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it
probably will be again.

> Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think
Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant,
friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated.
But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and
reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining
star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in
insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a 'star' we mean
someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars
are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or
getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they
have Vietnamese girls do their nails.

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any
longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who
poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have
been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an
abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of
the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a
road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and
killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S.
soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of
unexploded ordinance on a street near where he was guarding a station.
He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He
left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish
weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after
two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and
stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our
magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military
pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in
submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor
values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that
who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the
policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no
idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring
in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for
surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into
caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in
hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was
running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to
collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that
matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it
another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor
as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred
Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a
writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above
all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came
to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty
well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's
help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years.
I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into
a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him
the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the
soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize
that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it
is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to
help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use
as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

By Ben Stein


Penny said...

Wow. I came here via Elizabeth Foss, and I am so glad I did! This is a wonderful thing to share, and your blog is a joy - thank you so much for being here!

(ps: I hope it's ok that I linked it on my blog, if not, let me know and I'll delete)

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Wowie. That was a really good one!

Sandy said...

Thank you for posting that. Tears...

Elizabeth said...

Lovely. What a great guy.
And I think he's funnier than Fred Willard, at least. :)

regan said...

this was so good, shell. and my favorite part.."life lived to help others is the only one that matters"...i am so honored that, if i live my vocation well, in the end, that is what my legacy as a mother will be. thanks so much for sharing this. i will be having the teenager read this one first thing tomm.