Monday, August 19, 2013

Ashton Kutcher and My Grandparents: You Don't Need to Look Far to Find Inspiration

My grandparents will always be a source of inspiration.

Earlier this month, actor Ashton Kutcher delivered a powerful speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards. He spoke about the value of hard work, citing his early experiences washing dishes, working the deli counter, and sweeping a factory floor. He emphasized how important it is to be a caring and giving person, and how "the sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart." And he said that no matter where he was in his life, he always felt fortunate to just have a job.

Kutcher's rags-to-riches remarks were thoughtful and well-intentioned, especially for an awards ceremony. But for some reason, they don’t resonate with me. I guess, as we say in communications: it’s not the message, it’s the messenger. It reminds me of a scene from the famous play and film Driving Miss Daisy, where the affluent and cranky Miss Daisy tells her new driver, Hoke, that she knows “the value of a penny.” “My brother Manny brought home a white cat one day and Papa said we couldn't keep it because we couldn't afford to feed it,” Miss Daisy says. "My sisters saved up money so I could go to school and be a teacher. We didn't have anything!” Hoke responds: “Yes, but look like you doin' all right now.”

The most inspirational stories come from those who have overcome challenges just to live like us. My late grandfather fought in World War II, sold ladies’ handbags, and cared for my grandmother as she suffered through multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years. After he died, I didn’t know how she would survive. But with the help of her wonderful and equally bossy aide, and with her undying spirit, this woman who had once taught the deaf was determined to remain a part of all of our lives. I still remember her traveling in a wheelchair to Israel for my youngest brother’s bar mitzvah. Seeing her board the plane in a narrow wheelchair, and sit through the 9 hour flight unable to stretch or go to the bathroom without great help -- I just couldn’t believe how strong she was.

Usually, in life, we don’t have to go far to find out what really matters. We just have to know where to look.

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