Mobituaries – great lives worth reliving (a few thoughts)

Many who do not know of the podcast or the book by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg by the name “Mobituaries – great lives worth reliving,” are asking what does this mean? CBS News contributor Mo Rocca has long been fascinated by the stories of people who passed away, some famous, some less so. He provides interesting vignettes about lives worth noting.

The book is fascinating, one where you can pick up a read a few “mobituaries” about people you may or may not have heard of. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Chang and Eng Bunker (1811 – 1874) were the first known Siamese twins. They were joined at the side and shared a few organs. They were brought to America and exploited by the circus folks. They eventually took over their own affairs and settled down in Mount Airy, North Carolina. This is where Andy Griffith was born and based his fictional “Mayberry” on. They married two sisters who would live in separate houses on the same property. The Eng brothers would live for three days in one house, then move to the other spouse’s house. Sadly, one of the Eng’s was an alcoholic and was dying. After he died, his attached twin brother not only had to mourn him, but know he would also die shortly. He lived for only a few more hours. Their families live on and, after first not knowing of or embracing their unusual heritage, they now come together for a large family reunion.

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) is the epitome of the woman we all want in our lives and more than a few men (and I am sure women) had crushes on this actress. She was lovely, charming and vulnerable. Per Rocca, she had a tough life growing up in the same area as Anne Frank. She saw uncles and friends carried off by the Nazis and remembers starving at Christmas time recalling a gift of ten potatoes as a godsend. The Frank people begged her to play Anne Frank in a movie, but she said no as it is too close to home. I think this is why she became an ambassador to UNICEF later on. She won an Oscar for playing Princess Ann in “Roman Holiday,” and apparently that movie made her an icon in Japan, which developed Kabuki theatres on her behalf. When she was asked to do commercials in Japan in the early 1980s, she felt no one would remember her – to the contrary, she was still a star. Rocca said the famous talk show host Johnny Carson and his sidekick Ed McMahon admitted to being more nervous about having Hepburn on as a guest than anyone else. That says a lot.

Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925 – 1990) may have been the world’s greatest entertainer. He could sing, dance, do comedy, act and play several musical instruments. He seemed to give his all to every performance and that may be because he lived to perform. When many folks came together to honor him with performances in 1989, he surprised them all by getting up on stage with them and being, well Sammy Davis, Jr. He lost one eye in a car accident when a poorly designed appendage from a steering wheel pierced his eye socket in a crash. He begged the doctors to make sure he could still use his legs, though, being less concerned about his eye. His career began at age three years old with his father and a friend having a traveling show. He married a white woman before it was legal across the country and converted to Judaism. He would use that in his comedy about being the ultimate outsider. If you have no idea who Sammy Davis is, please Google him and check him out.

Well, this is just a taste of “Mobituaries.” There are many stories therein. Some are offered in detailed fashion, while others may be in a sidebar about like individuals. Read those sidebars as well. Rocca is an interesting and funny reporter. He brings both to his storytelling.

Who is learning from whom?

As Anna said in the “The King and I” a movie and play where an English tutor is engaged to teach the children of the King of Siam, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” This is actually based on a true story of Anna Leonowns and King Mongkut, so the line has even more merit. I use this reference which I read this morning in a USA Weekend article called “Voluntary Volunteer” by Mo Rocca about this same theme. In the volunteer work with homeless families I have been blessed and privileged to do, one of our secret sauces to success is our Hope Teams which mentor the families.

I equate the two stories for the following reason. One of our requirements for our Hope Teams, which are almost entirely made up of the faith community, is to not witness to the families. You are witnessing by deed by trying to help, but cannot proselytize your faith to them as it can be off-putting. It did not take long for us to realize that the converse was occurring. Or, as our Executive Director used to say “Who is witnessing to whom?” The irony is these families who were forced into homelessness due to the loss of one of their jobs, reduced hours, healthcare crisis, car crisis, etc. held tightly to the only thing that could give them comfort – their faith.

Through this devotion in times of such great crisis and anguish, our faith community members would come away from the mentoring relationships with a renewed faith. They were learning from the people in need they were helping. I mention this as well, as there are some who believe that people are in trouble because they are less virtuous. Bob Lupton who wrote the book that all volunteers must read, “Toxic Charity,” lives among those he is trying to help. One of the key lessons Lupton shares is when one of those who had been helped lamented about a church bus coming to help do certain things. When Lupton asked why, the person said, please do not get me wrong. We greatly appreciate their help. Yet, I wish the helpers would ask us about our faith, so we can have a conversation around a mutual interest. He said some people with good hearts assume we are less pious because of our situation.

In the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, they address this misconception head on. The number one misconception about poverty is the following assertion – “poverty is the absence of money.” It is no more or less. West and Smiley define it this way to get away from a belief of poverty being due to less virtue. When people spend time helping those in need, the helpers come away with the learning that poverty has nothing to do with being less virtuous.

I took some time off between jobs last year and did some tutoring of two fifth graders. While tutoring them in math, I came away with as much as they hopefully did. They both were English-as-a-second language citizens who moved here from countries in Africa. One girl lived in-house with ten people and three generations. The other girl lived in a house with seven people and three generations. These two young girls had a heavy role in household chores, both cooking and cleaning, to help the breadwinners. So, imagine trying to study as a fith grader when you go home and have to work so hard beforehand. Also, the countries they left have issues still. So, the fact the girls made it here, gives them a much greater advantage over their former compatriots.

In addition to these learnings for me, I also came away with the following. These young girls wrote a brief letter to their school counselor asking for help as they were worried about the End of Grade exams. For those who have children, please reread the above sentence and remember the age of a fifth grade student. The school is teaching their students how to advocate for themselves in a civil manner. They do this with conflict among their peers as well. They could teach our leaders a few lessons about civil discussion and conflict resolution.

Let me close with the following observation. The psychic income of helping others is huge. If you help someone, you gain as much, sometimes more, than the person you help. You learn from them. Someone asked a popular DJ what was her greatest tip when she was delivering pizzas while in college? Without batting an eye, she said $2. When asked why, she said she delivered a pizza to a poor neighborhood and the young kids were so excited when she rang the doorbell. The mother explained we don’t have much, but once a month, we splurge on a pizza for the kids. When the future DJ tried to leave, the mother said, wait, let me give you your tip and gave the pizza person $2. When she tried to decline, the mother said, you work hard and I insist that you take this. Think about that for a while.