Niagara Gazette

May 4, 2014

SINGER: In praise of the indispensables

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — They say no one’s indispensable, or more colorfully, that one monkey can’t stop the show; but in some ways, people are all we’ve got, and many can’t easily be forgotten. This came home recently with Ralph Wilson’s passing (making a Buffalo Bills’ future problematic), along with the dangerous return of Jim Kelly’s cancer; but it’s also evident in numerous obituary entries concerning many fine, accomplished individuals around these parts.

That notwithstanding, we currently live in a sort of human fast food society — get it quick, eat it quick, toss the trash. It’s also a society where tarnishings are regular phenomena — simply in sports, think of a Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds: once iconic, and now they didn’t really know how to ride a bike or play ball at all?

I realize those are special cases, but more generally, a society which comes down too heavily on its special will eventually find itself beset by omnipresent mediocrity. As one friend put it, they’ll gleefully unearth the one time Mother Theresa maybe picked her nose, and suddenly she ain’t so saintly? Once you invoke that kind of standard, a sad result, among others, will be that more rise to different positions for the wrong reasons and will often bore the heck out of others while occupying such niches. (In addition, they might operate badly, too!)

We really must reduce this trasherama atmosphere and thank the Lord for those who put themselves on the line, walk the walk, etc. In particular, I’m simply dazzled by the trait of courage on display. And yet that person who, say, traversed the Falls on a wire and helped boost local tourism may have worn mismatched clothes one morning? Then it goes viral and he/she gets raked over the coals in the entertainment media, suddenly mired with the latest bit of goofery wrought by a Miley or Lindsay? Is that right?

But this seems the indiscriminate, cheapening way today, where triviality has been made to reign (by the media). And yet, think what England fighting alone in 1940 against Hitler’s juggernaut would have been without Churchill at the helm. Think of the proverbial difference so many others have made for our benefit. Just for openers, Jonas Salk’s vaccine, rendering polio that once confined people to wheelchairs for life an afterthought (except in places like war-torn Syria, where it’s been making a sad comeback).

Or think simply of people in your own family, or of dear friends who are, yes, indispensable. A man with a fourth-grade education but lots of smarts once told his son, a pal of mine, that if in your maturity you can count your friends on your knees, you’re lucky. I.e., two who are truly significant...

“You have to have known him!” a French person once put it to me. “They broke the mold” or “he/she is one of a kind” are other ways of describing unique personalities who cross our path.

We see that in old Lucy or Carol Burnett shows from TV’s golden age, where no one, but no one could replace such stars. In real life, there are certain doctors, nurses, or mechanics you can’t easily replace as well. And on it goes...

But there’s also the apothegm that “when everybody’s somebody, nobody is anybody,” which has never been truer! Speaking a bit rigorously, and with relativism briefly tossed out the window, are there people one could call not indispensable? More than a few, I’d say! My own list would include actors like the insipid (to me) Ashton Kutcher. If Mr. Kutcher were somehow to move to the North Pole tomorrow, retiring from his televised labors into what I’d consider a merited obscurity, I wouldn’t mourn his loss on the small screen at all.

I realize that two-faced phonies among us are sometimes good at many things we badly require. Yet I still think we could do with a few less of those as well.

But the Indispensables? Each one who leaves us, especially those you’ve known well, means one less reason to live, as a writer put it in a fine book; and all are on our personal All-Star teams for sure!

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.