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Men of Our Time

When I think of a modern “man of his time“, I dig a little deeper than headlines. I go beyond founders of well-publicized IPOs, the business mogul du jour and the media obsession with celebrity.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson. Modern men of our time, for sure. Their names roll off the tongue easily. But who are the lesser known men and women who have made an impact?

I know one who lives in California. Well, I don’t know him personally, although I’ve watched him from a distance on numerous occasions. Maybe one day we’ll meet in person. To me, he’s inspirational beyond his vocation, teaching not only by deed but by virtue, wisdom and word.

Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal, for those who think and feel.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. If it doesn’t, it should. He wrote about the limelight, is sometimes in the limelight, but, I think, prefers the shadow of it. He is Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for one of the most influential rock bands in history, RUSH.

I recently came across some of Neil’s other writings (other than lyrics) and they are just as poignant, if not more so. His At the Gate of the Year (January 2012) caught me by surprise. It did so because he revealed his place – in my mind – as a man of our time.

In it, he reminded me of the importance and sanctity of what many take for granted daily.

…like when people ask me before I go away if I am excited about going on tour, and I can only look at them in wonderment. Should I be excited about leaving my wife, my baby daughter, my friends, my dog, my house, my toys, my desk, my kitchen, my grocery stores, and all that?”

I read this and it brought me peace. For years I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the what ifs of not pursuing music performance as a career. I went to school for music; have played with professional musicians; have famous musicians as friends; have friends who have sought to be famous musicians. And then there’s me. I’m not famous (I thought I wanted to be at one point), but I never truly pursued the limelight. Music remains my hobby and I’ve always wondered, “what if?”

I don’t need to wonder anymore because Neil reminded me that what’s important in life is life itself, and to what and to whom it’s connected. I know if I pursued my love of music I would be in the famous category. But, had I done so, the “me” today would likely be a very different me. I willingly chose another love.

Further along in “the Gate”, I found comfort in the following:

The year also had its share of tragedies, failures, and regrets. (Such different animals those be! Tragedies can be shared, but I have learned to keep my failures and regrets to myself. That is a deep kind of Roadcraft. Like our song, “Bravado,” about burning our wings if we fly too close to the sun—the price of trying hard is occasional failure.)”

“The price of trying hard is occasional failure.” In these words, it hit me that failure is not about “lacking” talent or skill. If one never tries, one never knows. And then, I experienced a moment of compounded peace with the realization that, by not “trying” a career in music (I made a conscious decision to pursue other paths), I didn’t fail in it. Even though I didn’t pursue a music career, music still defines an important part of me. I’m happy in that alone. I’m not jaded by the business side of music like my friends who “didn’t make it.”

Great men of their time bring about recognition of other influentials. Neil is no exception. He shed light on another, Christopher Hitchens, the late Vanity Fair essayist.

If the highest gift art can offer is inspiration, then encouragement is not far behind. Mr. Hitchens has made me braver—for good or ill—about speaking my own mind. No one expects to change anyone’s beliefs, though as Hitchens also said: ‘What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence‘.”

Neil Peart, thank you for sharing your highest gift with me and with the world. And, thank you more for the encouragement.

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