Wheelbarrows, Shoeshines, and Lincoln

So, I saw the Lincoln movie last weekend.  Great film…extraordinary.  And for those of you who know me well, you know that the last docudrama I saw in a full-blown cinema was “Ghandi” in 1982 – and, while Ben Kingsley won for “Best Actor” and the Academy ultimately deemed the flick to be “Best Picture,” I, in my wisdom of then only 11 years, deemed it to have “sucked.”

In keeping with our family tradition, our 11 year-old joined us at “Lincoln.” I think she understands me now when I talk about seeing Ghandi at about the same age.

And, while the lead actors were all fantastic, I’ve thought a lot about one of the “extras” – a friend from Richmond who had the good fortune of stepping onto the set to be an orderly in Spielberg’s latest masterpiece.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall him.  He’s the guy pushing the wheelbarrow full of body parts as Lincoln arrives at the military hospital.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s not quite as grizzly as it sounds.  But it was a very effective and wisely inserted reminder of the reality of war.

The scene itself underscores the cost of the war and the importance of a leader’s struggles.  And while the movie could have been made without that scene, perhaps its value as a body of work would have been diminished.  I think so.

While there is no Academy Award for “Best Supporting Extra”, it’s fair to reason that every film worthy of “Best Picture” has had one.  Or many.

As we were enjoying a farewell gathering in Richmond last year, a friend reminded me of our interaction with the “shoeshine guy” at a hotel during one of our business trips together.  He was recalling a rather lengthy conversation I had with the “shoeshine guy” – and marveling at the question as to which of us, given the chance, could outsell the other – me, or the “shoeshine guy.”  It was a healthy banter.

I reminded him that our highly polished shoes were important to the next day’s “mission” – we were to be front and center with senior leadership and, of course the hue of our shoe leather would determine their confidence in our strategies.  Right?

Um.  No.

The fact is, the shoeshine was an added benefit.  The primary commodity of that $10 transaction was the pep-talk that came with the shine.  Yet the pep-talk wasn’t directed to me.

Wise beyond his years and more educated in real life than any self-proclaimed scholarly “expert”, the “shoeshine guy” kept it real.  Over the years, he’d held and polished the feet of many – politicians, business leaders, country music legends, and the average Joe – hearing their stories and offering his own unsolicited counsel.

During our fondly recalled visit, there was nothing really special about our conversation – except for one observation.  Just as I was sitting down for a quick pre-dinner shine, a well-dressed man emerged with a pair of shoes to be shined, explaining that “the Governor” was upstairs and needed them in short order.  Without missing a beat, the “shoeshine guy” instructed the gentleman to “set ’em aside…it’ll be the Gov’nors turn next.  I take ’em as they come and treat ’em all alike.  Besides…I didn’t vote for him.”  Fantastic.

The lesson of the shoeshine stuck with us the next day in our meetings…and beyond.  The shine was of no importance to our “leading actors”, yet vastly important to ourselves.  If nothing else, it was an important rite of preparation for our supporting roles in a boardroom exercise, yet hardly worthy of recognition.

Sometimes it’s really quite healthy to be reminded that, to some we are in leading roles, while to many we are simply extras.

And so, how well do we remember those who have pushed the wheelbarrow for us?

Here’s to all of the “Best Extras” who support our most extraordinary performances in whatever we do.

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2 Responses to Wheelbarrows, Shoeshines, and Lincoln

  1. p8tn18 says:

    I also saw the movie ‘Lincoln’. And yes I do remember the wheelbarrow with all the “body parts’ and the person pushing it. I walked away from that movie RE-educated on that period of time. What an extraordinary President….Lincoln was….I so wish that we could have a President like that in todays times…..Thanks again for another great read of your thoughts. Please write a book. 🙂

  2. Well said, brother! Enjoying the usual mix of humor, reality and inspiration from a wonderful author. Keep ’em coming!

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