Most people have cooler Friday nights than I do. I like to stay up late and Google things. Tonight I learned that all the hurricanes have already been named through 2017, which seems a little presumptuous. This is kind of a big deal to me because one of my most far-fetched ambitions is to name a hurricane. It seems unfair I have to sweat out the next five years worth of windy disasters to get my chance.
I also want to be a judge in a major contest — like Miss USA or American Idol. A judge’s seat with MasterChef or Project Runway would do. I’d also lend my skill to eye natural talent by screening The Bachelor/Bachelorette video applications, if that opportunity ever arises.
One day I’d like to stroll the red carpet with a skinny (but very fit) body in a stunning backless dress hanging on the arm of Ryan or Zac. I’d be invited because I’m presenting an award — maybe for best new artist of the year.
These would all be moments that might shape me in small but profound ways — my own life’s imaginary red carpet.
On Wednesday night this week I wore a very un-special outfit that took me about an hour and a half to pick out the night before. I was presenting our two Digital awards at the 40 Hour Famine senior schools Scholarship Week awards night (a mouthful, aye). It’s a celebratory night at the end of a three-day intensive for students hand-picked by their teachers representing 30 of the top 40 Hour Famine fundraising schools in New Zealand. It’s one of those “events” that I grossly underestimate in every way and walk away in awe.
I presented the Digital awards for most fundraised online and most online participants after thinking too far ahead my own words letting them spill out stumbling, falling on top of one another. Then I took my seat. Our room of 87 sat quietly while other awards were presented and accepted, photographs were taken, the night tip toed on.
Then there was Gregory Fortuin, honorary guest speaker. Gregory is one of those people that oozes sincerity, honesty and wisdom from his seat and from stage; a mentor and a teacher who will likely never know the depth of his influence in his lifetime. He serves on the boards of three or four different New Zealand companies, has been recognised by Nelson Mandela, and has a heart for depressed youth, leadership, and Jesus. He’s totally Heaven quality.
Gregory took the stage in jokes but sobered up the group quick. He was clearly a very serious man. The kind of serious that warned you that what he was about to say would be difficult to grasp, but absolutely necessary that you do so.
He spoke of this photograph.
It’s the photo that won Kevin Carter the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, giving him fame and recognition for a lifetime. Then, Sudan was facing famine. Vultures stalked on the bodies of barely breathing children.
Once, a reporter interviewing Carter about his prize photo asked him what happened to this child. Carter said he did not know, it wasn’t his job. His job was to take photos. His job was to not touch the children, warned of catching disease from famine victims. Later, Carter confided in friends that he wished he would’ve done something, intervened maybe. Weeks after accepting the Pulitzer, Carter committed suicide.
It’s a terrible story… impactful and terrible. It froze our room of young scholars who came inspired and passionate, ready for encouragement and challenge. This was certainly a challenge.
Gregory went on to say, “It’s more than your job.” Caring for our world, loving your neighbour, helping a friend, smiling at a stranger. These things are no one’s job. It wasn’t Carter’s job. It was more. And we are not products of a job description, a social status, a significance determined by someone else. We are much more. Intervening in the injustices we see, it’s more than our job.
I’ve tried to find a loophole in Gregory’s point, for extra credit challenge. I wanted to find a possible excuse I could use to accept the “status quo slacktivist” thing if I ever needed to in the future. But what I found as my mind turned his words over and over was that every face of this lesson was the same — it is more than our job. And I think we ought to do more than our jobs require of us. I realised our jobs are not the expectations, they are the minimum standard.
So I asked myself – do I take the time for things when the time is ripe? Do I seize opportunity? Do I do it with complaint or joy? Do I care? Do I show that I care? Do I speak like I care? Do I live like I care?
Gregory made a few more of the most sincere points I’ve ever heard offered to a group of youth so eager to change our world. He spoke of friendships and mentoring, supporting and caring for the vision and well-being of young people, and of remembering our small beginnings.
He told the story of a time when he was in Africa and a tree lay across the road. They sat waiting for a solution to appear. From the woodwork, African people came out to the road and they pushed the tree but it didn’t budge. Then a man came out and he stood near where the others were pushing the tree with all their strength. And he sang. He sang a loud song. And the people, they began pushing the tree together in the rhythm of that song. And they moved the tree.
Gregory said to us: In this world, although you be only one, it only takes one… to take the first move and sing the first note.
That was his encouragement.
And for me, it was better than what I imagine presenting an award at the Grammys might be like, because I was surrounded, if for those three hours, by greatness all around me.