Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher, would walk through his city in broad daylight while holding a lantern up to the faces of people he passed by. He would say to each one, “I’m looking for an honest man.”
There is, of course, no such man (or woman). At least not completely so, not every moment of every day, at every single thought and emotion that courses through our brains. In fact, as humans, we should feel great relief (not sorrow) in realizing that such an apparent imperfection serves to make us higher beings, not lesser. We are capable of much greater creativity and imagination than any computer or robot. And where would art, literature, music, theater and even science be without human creativity and imagination? Digressing from the literal truth as we do, we often discover a much deeper, hidden real truth.
This past week I visited Bristolian Phil Rust. Spent a solid hour with him. One-on-one in his living room.
I had never met Phil before. He had previously sent me several very nice and memorable correspondences by letter, always in support of things I do around town behind the scenes to help the poor and needy.
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When he came to see who was at his front door, Phil smiled and said from his wheelchair, “I somehow pictured you as a lot taller.” (I’m 5’9”. And destined to be less as old age and gravity take their toll.)
Phil pronounced his honest statement with such genuine kindness that I could not be taken aback. I simply laughed and said something in return that I’ve since forgotten.
But I will not forget Phil Rust. When one is in the presence of a sincere, good and compassionate being, one does not quickly forget the feeling one has while there. These types of souls, as we all know, are not so easily found.
As I sat in an armchair listening to Phil, his every statement appeared to be pre-checked for “integrity” prior to coming out of his mouth. But it was all done so fluidly, as one who had done so for a lifetime, like brushing one’s teeth.
Now I don’t want the reader to get the wrong idea about what an honest man or woman really is. Phil is very much unlike the many blunt personalities (we all know them) who claim honesty, but who only promote blunt rudeness (not real truth). Phil is a compassionate man. He seeks to speak truth with sincere kindness.
I sat for an hour. Spellbound. If you know another dear elderly soul, my friends, and you aren’t spending some time listening to them, then you are missing out on the wisdom of the ages. As has often been said, sage old folk are libraries of wisdom. If we will only sit still long enough to listen.
Phil is honest about his faults. He spoke of some regrets (don’t we all have them?), one being the time he once spent away from his beloved family due to his traveling sales jobs when younger. (Oh, what a torn remembrance that must be throughout history for so many breadwinners with children.)
Then Phil brought up getting special recognition for our fellow Bristolian, Shamas Dougherty. Those whom we refer to as honest souls are also generally kind and thoughtful. Else they wouldn’t be nearly so honest.
(By the way, another fellow Bristolian, Rick Wampler, recently mentioned to me, “I think we should rename the Parkway from State Street to Food City on the Parkway; Shamas Dougherty Parkway. Or maybe erect a monument on the Parkway of Shamas on his bike.” If any reader wishes to further pursue such an honorable task, I will help you by promoting the cause here in this column.)
As for my column, Phil smiled and said, “I’ll read one of your columns and think you are a liberal. Then I’ll read another and say, no, he’s really a conservative.” I smiled back and told him, “I must be doing a good job writing then, because I feel I’m a good mix of both.”
Like Diogenes, you may be unable to find an honest man, my friends. But if you meet a man like Phil Rust you will have surely found a good one.
Ben Talley is a member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year, a McGlothlin Award Winner for Teaching Excellence, and a recipient of the Bristol Mayors Award for lifetime community service to his hometown.