In the Presence of Greatness – An Excerpt

(… indicates missing lines. The photos are not included in the book.)

The year 1985 was unlike any other year…

On Tuesday, February 5th, 1985, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, paid a visit to Trinidad…My most pressing thought was that I must get home before the Pope-mobile passed. I was not Catholic and if I were seen in the crowds…

Pope John Paul 11And so it came about that I stood in the crowd that thronged along the sides of the road on an evening electrified with unbridled joy and the Pope’s beaming smile*. I studied his face as the vehicle approached. It appeared clear and smooth, as if untouched by the sun that baked the visitors who came to the country for leisure or business. He glowed; peace seemed to ooze from his person…Then it was over … and I would not think about him until more than a decade later.

The months rolled on and November arrived, bringing with it a royal visitor: Queen Elizabeth II. This time only students and faculty assembled in the quadrangle at the university. At 5’2″, I struggled to see above the heads of the giant males… A young man came to my rescue by suggesting to the others, “Let this chick go to the front.”…  I wiggled among my peers and took a place in the row closest to Queen Elizabeth.

The Queen wore a yellow dress … She looked beautiful and dignified. I wish I could remember if she wore a crown on her head, but I was too busy staring at her face – fresh as a daisy, soft, gracious. But she was more, so much more than I could fathom…

Queen Elizabeth II was the conqueror of the land on which we stood. All of these nationalities, languages, cultures and names were stirred into a melting pot called Trinidad. Named for the Holy Trinity by a Catholic explorer, the head of whose religion I had seen in person earlier that year. Until its independence in 1962, Trinidad had been governed by the monarch of the British Crown, before whom I stood. Greatness wrapped in a female whose blood, while classified as blue, is as red as mine, whose language is my mother tongue…

Fast forward to the spring of 1999. In less than two months my baby would be born. I stood before Canada’s then Finance Minister, Paul Martin, in Ontario, and delivered a speech for continued funding to pre-natal groups. Then I sat on a sofa opposite him and chatted with the rest of the “Labour of Love” group.  PM

I was new to Canada and had not pledged allegiance to any political party. My audience was a public servant who had skills I didn’t have, but who, like me, had worked hard to obtain certifications. Though millions live in this country, few would grace the position he held. Four years later, the polls declared him “The Right Honourable Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada.” History added “2003 to 2006.”  I am proud to have been in the man’s company, to share a group photo with him, and to have been instrumental in securing financial support for pregnant women and their babies.*

And I am privileged to have laid eyes on two other icons of spirituality and power.

Living Intentionally

 All the connections and thoughts regarding three great people I’ve met did not go through my mind in a flash. Rather, they were an accumulation of thought over years…

In 2013, the Canadian 1-cent was removed from circulation. Every coin in the Canadian money system carries the portrait of the existing British monarch, and Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait was on that coin. I have written two books about the penny. Looking back, I deem it significant that the “chick” who was sent to the front row would write about the life and demise of a coin with the monarch’s image on it.

In capturing the Pope’s visit, a newspaper headline flashed, “T’was a night to remember.” I can attest that it was a moment that was quickly over but that carried with it an impact that endured. Twenty years after I saw him…

The majority of my friends have not met a Prime Minister face to face. Fewer yet have seen the Queen in person, and if they haven’t done so already, none will ever meet Pope John Paul II in this life.

Sometimes in life we are fortunate to encounter those whom few would argue are truly great, by virtue of the power they wield with grace, dignity and wisdom. I have found though, that when I open myself up to see greatness around me, it is much more common than I had imagined….Experiencing and appreciating the greatness in others—some famous, some not—has made me a better person. My wish for you is that you experience at
least one encounter with greatness right where you are.

* (Photos courtesy Catholic News, Trinidad & Tobago and R. Campbell blog.)

(My newly released book, Remarkably Ordinary, is on a special launch price for US$0.99 during April only. Find it at your favourite Amazon.

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