This is an opportune time of year to take stock of our blessings. Actually, everyday should be a time of thanksgiving, but it seems we are too busy being too busy to appreciate just how blessed we are.
Maybe – just maybe – we tend to look at our world upside down. The things that we think are important may not be as critical as we imagine. Those things that seem trivial just might be the ones that matter the most.
I learned about perspectives the hard way a couple of years ago when we lost our 22-year-old grandson, Zack, very suddenly. And I have been reminded again in a most articulate way by Ben Porter.
Benjamin George Porter of Macon died a couple of months ago of brain cancer. He had a distinguished business career and an equally impressive record of public service to the state. He was 77.
He owned several radio stations and had been president of Charter Medical International and senior vice-president of Charter Medical Corporation, an international behavioral healthcare provider headquartered in Macon.
In addition, Porter served on a number of boards and authorities with the state of Georgia. He was the past chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority and a former chairman of the Georgia Board of Natural Resources.
In 2008, this hard-driving businessman discovered he had cancer. In April 2010, he sat down and penned a remarkable testimonial that he distributed to his friends and colleagues about what life looked like to him before and after that revelation.
“When you are well and healthy,” he said “it’s hard to remember you didn’t acquire all that good fortune by yourself. When you’re a little cocky, it’s harder to humble down and to give credit where it is due.”
After a routine chest X-ray found a malignant tumor, Porter said he learned a valuable and humble lesson, “When you are sick and scared, it is a lot easier to be a good Christian and to find time to be in close meditation with God and to reflect on your relationship with God and your fellow man. Every day is a miracle.”
Ben Porter had begun his long and successful career at the local radio station at the age of 15 in his native Valdosta and he never stopped working. He admits that somewhere along the way, his perspective became a bit skewed. He said he had grown up in a Christian home, but as he drove himself to succeed in the business world, Porter says his relationship with God became more casual. He notes wryly that he routinely asked God to forgive his sins, but “I didn’t elaborate much and God didn’t ask.”
Ben Porter fought the good fight and endured a lot of pain and suffering in the process. The malignancies in his chest were cared for by the good folks at Emory University in Atlanta but just as he felt he was on a “solid course of improvement,” he learned in September 2009 that more malignant tumors had been discovered in his brain.
With death a few short months away, he didn’t wallow in self-pity or ask “why me?” Instead, Porter chose to share some sage advice to the rest of us: “Smell the roses. That’s not just a flip phrase. And tell your family and friends that you love them while you are all here. You’ll both enjoy the experience. I’ll tell you this: I’d rather see and smell one sweet bouquet while I’m here than have a truckload follow me to the cemetery.”
We would do well – this columnist included – to take a moment and contemplate his advice: Stop and smell the roses. Tell your family and your friends that you love them while they are still around to hear it and marvel at what miracles God hath wrought, be they the aroma of a sweet bouquet of flowers, the sight of a glorious sunrise or the sound of a child’s laughter.
Ben Porter’s record of success in the business world and his involvement in civic activities in this state will not soon be forgotten, but perhaps his greatest achievement was sharing his perspective of what is important in life and what is not and reminding us to take each day as the precious gift it really is.
Well said, Benjamin George Porter. Thank you, and may you rest in peace.
Yarbrough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga. 31139.