Duty and footprints


“ Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.” I don’t know if the story is true.

Legends become attached to great people and we give them the story. It may be that that is what happened here. But for what it is worth, here is the story. I find it helpful, inspiring and challenging.

His name was Fleming, a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. Dropping his tools, he ran to render aid.

There before him, mired up to his waist in the black muck, was a terrified boy screaming and struggling to free himself. Throwing caution to the wind, Farmer Fleming waded in and saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled by four thoroughbred horses drove up in front of the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the lad that Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you for your courage and daring,” said the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.” The Scottish farmer waved off the offer. “No, I can’t accept payment for something that was my duty to do.”

At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.” The nobleman went on, “I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.”

And that he did. Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools, in time graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin! The name of the nobleman was Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name was Sir Winston Churchill.

Longfellow was right when he wrote:

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And departing leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.”

Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.

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2012-08-23 digital edition

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