A great Jewish ethical thinker once chronicled the progressive rationalizations of the fraudulent scholar. It all starts with a misunderstanding. Something he said, or something said of him, was taken to mean he had mastered the entire Talmud, 5,400 pages of legal and theological teachings. When people begin honoring him for this rare feat, he tells himself he is not gulling them; in essence, they are showing obeisance to the Jewish canon, an educational and cultural plus for their characters. Eventually, he becomes so hooked on being awarded unearned distinction that when someone addresses him casually he seethes with indignation to see such callous disregard for tradition.
Which brings us to the
>sordid tale of Reggie L. Buddle, a man with a name straight out of P.G. Wodehouse. Buddle created quite a muddle by claiming to have been in battle. He had built up quite a reputation in the Seattle suburban area attending ceremonial events in a uniform festooned with decorations. Before long he began to perform marriages. Bride and groom stood in hushed reverence before the man who had stood tall for freedom under fire. If only they could preserve this inspired moments in their hearts, to be assured of a life of stalwart heroism. If only...
If only it were true. In early 2006 he went too far when he accepted an invitation to deliver the invocation at the Washington State Senate. There he encountered some folks who know the difference between an epigone and an epaulet. His demeanor was found demeaning; his recollections were not collectible. They had him investigated and he was unmasked as an impostor. The only fight he ever had with a Vietnamese was when he complained about the noodles and tipped too low. This week a judge in Tacoma sentenced him to 500 hours tending military graves as a sort of state-sanctioned penance. (Luckily for him, he couldn't be sentenced under the uniform code for military justice, or he might have had to spend those hours cleaning latrines.)
I can just see Buddle following the path laid out above. Someone said he has a martial bearing, then there was a conversation in the bowling alley where everyone reminisced about fighting days and he could not resist... By the time he is knee-deep in his charade, he is convinced that "this is not about me"; he is inculcating into the masses an appreciation for the sacrifices of our comrades under arms. It is almost selfless, come to think of it.
Ha! The truth sadly is nowhere near the befuddled Buddle puddle of phony sentiment. The man grew addicted to praise that was porous and accolades that were occluded from reality.
Honesty is the best policy, the father of our country averred, and that cannot be averted. The best way to face our own status in life is to take pride in what we have become and to strive to be more. It is important to appreciate one's inner dignity, to wear the uniform that bespeaks one's place in life, to appear as what we are, not what we aren't. Don't pretend to be the dashing soldier your better angels wished you could be and don't pretend to be the dashing swinger your demons wished you could be. It is your own suit that fits the best.
We all make a difference in this life, as long as we act in good faith. When you take the trash to the curb, take a moment to think you are making things better. Every time you wash a dish, every time you diaper your child, every time you pick up the phone and call a friend. If you are a real soldier or veteran, more power to you. If you are a doctor healing people, wow! But even if you are a receptionist in an office, a mechanic in a garage, you are helping mankind promote its collective enterprise.
Who is rich? This question is asked by the Mishna and answered: "The one who is happy with his lot." Our lot may not always seem like a lot, but better a deserved little lot than an undeserved load of loot. The heroes of the battlefield bring the greatness of our national oversoul into sharper relief, but in truth your block and mine -- the home front -- are filled with heroes, helping their families, helping needy people, helping the world move forward. Don't feel you muffed it just because you are wearing mufti.