A Night With Dan Rather And a Lesson On Humility
"Humility brings you good things in life." - Dan Rather
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Why did I deserve to meet Dan Rather? I was not especially prepared for the evening. I was glaringly underdressed. I had no special credentials that would make me useful to meet. I held no office in the school, and I did nothing to help create the event.
That evening proceeded as a series of fortunate events. My friend just happened to stumble on some tickets on the bottom floor. I just happened to have another friend, who had an acquaintance, who had tickets to meet Mr. Rather personally. By mere happenstance, they bumped shoulders on the way out, while the crowd was still milling about. He handed my friend a ticket, and since I was standing next to him, he handed me one too for good measure.
At the outset of Mr. Rather’s speech, he emphasized the virtue of humility. Members of the crowd bemoaned this confession as if to say.
“No need to be modest Dan! You are one of the last vestiges of what’s right with this world.” Mr. Rather was quick to put this sentiment to rest. He said that early in his career, he had become self-absorbed. His wife, children and Texan in-laws helped bring him back down to size. He was not gun shy about his mistakes. I was taken aback by his humility, and by his humanity.
With our lucky tickets in hand, my friend, Hasan Abdul-Karim and I stood in line waiting to be admitted to meet Mr. Rather. We both looked like we had just stumbled in. Truth be told, we had. We could not believe our luck. We felt like Jack Dawson and Fabrizzio after they just won tickets in a poker game to board the Titanic.
The line meandered forward and people began to ask their neighbors to help them take photographs. Mr. Rather sat there in front of us. His shoulders shook up and down each time, as if laughing while he smiled for the camera.
Our turn arrived, and as we stood in front of his desk I reached out to shake his hand. He gave a firm handshake. Strong enough to know he was there, but not too strong to send the impression of domination. He shook my hand three or four times before letting go. My friend extended his arm to do the same. While they did, I leaned forward to ask Mr. Rather, whose hearing was failing, my question.
“Mr. Rather, I liked what you said about humility during your speech. If you were talking to your grandkids about humility, and you had only one sentence to tell them, what would you say?”
Mr. Rather pondered this for a few moments. I couldn’t believe even with this line behind me he was still willing to expend the effort talking with me, a veritable nobody. Then he responded, “I would tell them that humility is one of the most attractive things in a person. And that it brings you good things in life.”
He paused, and then quickly added, “But you shouldn’t do it because of that. You should do it because it makes you a better person. Because it makes you a better man.”
“Thank you Mr. Rather,” I said. It was a surreal moment.
We posed behind him for a photograph as he signed my friend’s book. His hands displayed the signs of aging. They moved swiftly over the pages, demonstrating years of familiarity signing documents.
Once more, why did I deserve to meet Dan Rather? The answer is simple. I didn’t. I was just a regular guy in the crowd, a student with a free evening. I did nothing to earn it, and nothing to deserve it. And for that reason I will never forget that evening. I can imagine my grandkids cringing inside as I tell them the same old worn story. It will always start the same. “Have I ever told you kids about the time I met Dan Rather? He was well before your era…”
They will think, “Oh boy, here goes Grandpa again.” But they will sit quietly and listen, as I ramble on.