For many years Ben Stein has written a bi-weekly column called "Monday Night At Morton's." Morton's is a famous chain of steakhouses frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe. Ben is terminating the column to move on in his life. Reading this final column may be well worth your time.
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. It gives me a shiver to write "final." 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 rich people in droves and definitely some stars...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 very important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But someone making 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 someone making an eight-figure wage and living in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by "star" we mean someone bright, powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in limousines or in Porsches, getting trained in yoga or Pilates, eating only raw fruit while having Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people; but they are not heroes to me any longer.
A real star is a soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who pokes his head into a hole of a farm building 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 the decent people in the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb off the road north of Baghdad; as he approached it, the bomb exploded and killed him. A real star, the kind haunting my memory night and day, is the soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on the street near his guard post. Pushing her aside he 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 patrolling 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 per 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 submarines near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.
I am no longer comfortable being part of the system having such poor values. 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 on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in victims of terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their entire spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and cancer wards. Think of each and every firefighter 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 calling as a human being.... Years ago I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier, as good a comic as Steve Martin,,, 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 when he got sick, went into extremis and then a coma and finally 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 life God has given me, to help others God has sent my way. This is my highest and best calling as a human being. Faith is not in believing that God can. It is in knowing that God will.