Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What is "success"?

I was listening to NPR the other day and heard a story that helped give some perspective to our daily lives: Mayor of Central Park

Anyone who walked or ran on the famous Central Park Reservoir running track in New York would see him. They called him the Mayor of Central Park, and he claimed to be the first person to jog around the reservoir when there was just a little path. Since 1937, Alberto Arroyo was there every day, and when he retired he was often there the entire day, waving and saying hello to everyone. When he couldn't run, he walked. Then he used a cane, then a walker, and finally, after a stroke, a wheelchair. Arroyo died last month at 94.

... For some 75 years, Alberto Arroyo ran in Central Park. He claimed to be the first runner there, the first to run around the Central Park Reservoir, long before there was a running track. Later, with his weather-beaten face and white hair, he was still there, no matter the season, waving, talking and encouraging people.

Yesterday, the running track was dedicated to Arroyo ...

MARGOT ADLER: As some 150 people lined both sides of the reservoir track near the bench where Arroyo often sat, they left a wide space so that runners could pass by throughout the service. He would've insisted, they said. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said Arroyo was like the mail carrier neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night kept him from his rounds.

Wendy Mondreresena(ph), a mother of three, said she would return to the reservoir after each child was born and Alberto was always there.

Ms. WENDY MONDRERESENA: I was always so out of shape and I felt so crappy, and you know, he always really brought me up and made me feel good and said I could do it and I could get back in shape. He was such a positive thing in my life. I wonder if he knows that...

Ms. LORI BRAUN: Always gave you time, always. The smile, just a genuine person.

Ms. RUTH PAGON: I did the power walking. I didn't do the jogging like he did. But he got me hooked and I looked forward to coming here every single day just to see Alberto. He was just a wonderful soul ...

ADLER: Arroyo, who died last month at 94, was a very private person. At the memorial service, a longtime friend, Edmund Maring(ph), said he only learned late in his friendship that Arroyo had taken a vow of poverty at an early age and had given all his money away. He lived in a single-room occupancy hotel on the Upper West Side.

Mr. ADRIAN BENEPE (Parks Commissioner): With just a hot plate and a phone that only dialed 911. Alberto said that you have to be able to be happy with nothing. He had cereal in the morning. He said that he had fresh air in the afternoon. And then he'd have Chinese takeout for dinner. What's more New York than that?

ADLER: Edmund Maring said Arroyo told a filmmaker he didn't mind dying. You just go from one apartment to another. This was his place in the sun, he said, the Central Park Reservoir, even on a rainy day, his last apartment on earth. But most runners said they still keep thinking they'll see him when they round a bend.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

It kinda makes you think about what we define as "success". This man had no money, was not some storied businessman or celebrity, yet profoundly impacted more lives than any of us could ever hope to.

We slave each day at our jobs for some elusive carrot. What is that carrot? For some, it is money. For some it is the security that money may bring so that they can do other things. For others, it is accolades. Are those bad goals in and of themselves? No, of course not. But the path you take to that goal is as important as the destination. I don't care if you are giving a bunch of your money to charity if you are screwing some homeowner with a shady mortgage to get there. I don't care if you are volunteering each weekend if you are knowingly peddling some financial derivative that you know is toxic during the week.

Don't be a hater. Don't just be generous to "your" people. Love need not see color or gender, so don't tell people who they can't marry. Religion and patriotism are not cloaks of protection that allow you to be a bigot. If you believe in God, then practice what the book preached:

"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you ..."

"Do not judge, lest you too be judged"

"Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions ..."

"You cannot serve both God and money"

If you don't believe in God, those are still not too shabby of things to live by. You only have one life here, so don't waste it.

There is no inherent merit to collecting wealth. Being rich doesn't make you a better person.

So, go out there, do your thing, be successful. But me mindful of your journey. The way in which we impact this world is through our relationships with others and how we impact our surroundings. Don't be remembered as "that guy" that may have died with a lot of money but had no friends.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson


wunelle said...

I also heard of this story. It fascinates me a couple different ways: I love it because it's New York, a place with such a condensation of diverse stories--I love the place and I naturally am drawn to the stories that define it; but I also love it because (as you write) it's so hard for me to imagine such a life. I honestly can't quite imagine being happy with absolutely nothing, not because I think these 'things' are important or that they MAKE me happy per se, but because living utterly without would require a wholesale retooling of life itself. Even if I think this admirable (and I just don't know), I suspect I'm neither political nor motivated nor courageous enough to be the person to do it.

I wonder at pre-industrial life, at what a more subsistence-level existence would have been like.

dbackdad said...

There's no way I could do that. I highlight it more as an example of the ways in which someone can profoundly affect others without spending a dime.

Money isn't bad by itself. It's just not healthy if it's the only goal.

And I agree about the setting. It is a uniquely NY story.