Humility and Greatness

Humility is a fascinating and subtle virtue.  It is also an essential component of greatness, and a primary ingredient of liberty, for the end of freedom lies in arrogance.

Rudy Favard is a star football player, co-captain of the team at Malden Catholic High School in the Boston area, and an honor roll student.  His athletic and academic achievements give him every right to be proud, but his humility makes him great.  Four nights a week, he takes time out from a busy young life to drive to the home of Rick and Patty Parker, whose son Sammy is paralyzed from cerebral palsy.  Rick and Patty have been dealing with health problems of their own, and they can’t get eight-year-old Sammy up the stairs to his bedroom any more… so Rudy Favard drives over and does it for them.  He wouldn’t even take gas money at first.  He’s got friends who fill in when he can’t make it on a game night.

When Yvonne Abraham of the Boston Globe dropped by the Parker house for an interview, Rudy asked if she could talk about Sammy instead.  “He’s done more for me than I’ve done for him,’’ the football star explained. “There are times when I don’t want to go to practice, and then I look at Sam. By God’s grace, I can do what I’m doing, so I should keep it up. I’ve never been one to complain a lot, but just seeing Sam reaffirms everything, you know?’’

John Fernandez was also an athlete, a lacrosse player who made captain of the team at West Point.  He was an Army First Lieutenant camped south of Baghdad when a mortar round struck his unit while they slept.  He woke up to find three of his friends dead, and his own legs shredded below the knees.  He still tried to help one of the dying soldiers to safety.  The doctors eventually had to take his feet and lower legs.

He takes unflinching responsibility for the life choices that led him to this difficult moment, telling ABC’s Good Morning, America: “In life everyone has choices that they make.  I chose to be a leader in the United States Army.  And I chose to protect the country and to follow whatever decisions my commander makes.  That is the choice I made. I’m proud of my country and will never feel sorry for myself.”

Fernandez describes his injuries as “just another adversity,” which he will overcome with help from his wife, family, friends, and plenty of strangers who have been inspired by his unshakeable courage.  “There has been so much support,” he said.  “I just want to tell America thank you.”  Imagine that: he wants to thank us.

Understand these two young men, and you will learn much of humility.  With all due respect to the wishes of Rudy Favard, that’s why it’s important to write about him, as well as the stricken little boy he carries up those stairs at night.  Humility leads the strong to kneel before the desperate, and so achieve greatness.  It fills an injured soldier with the quiet confidence to proudly take full responsibility for his life, giving rise to courage without regret.  In an age when Americans are told their days of exceptionalism are behind them, it is important to remind them how they walk in the company of humble giants, whose preference for remaining quiet about their greatness gives us the pleasure, and honor, of finding them.