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Living in luxury? by Ben Stein

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  • Living in luxury? by Ben Stein

    How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's
    As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which
    means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This
    heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I
    have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall
    when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I
    came to believe it would never end. It worked well for a long
    time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's
    change have overtaken it.
    On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer
    attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich
    people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L.
    Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right
    before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in
    an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a
    super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was,
    though it probably will be again.
    Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think
    Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly
    pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve
    to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for
    memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no
    longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to. How
    can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in
    insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star"
    we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role
    model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of
    limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates
    and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do
    their nails.
    They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to
    me any longer.
    A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked
    his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have
    been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced
    an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent
    people of the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent
    to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached
    it, and the bomb went off and killed him. A real star, the kind
    who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad
    who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance
    on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her
    aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a
    family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.
    The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have
    lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul
    even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies
    battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from
    terrorists. We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on
    the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely
    scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and
    Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are
    anonymous as they live and die. I am no longer comfortable being
    a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want
    to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at
    Morton's is a big subject. There are plenty of other stars in the
    American firmament....the policemen and women who go off on patrol
    in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive, The
    orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in
    terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery, the teachers and
    nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic
    children, the kind men and women who work in hospices and in
    cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up
    the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to
    collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero. We are not
    responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to
    us is not terribly important.
    God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to
    Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for
    ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire
    ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the
    power over to Him. I came to realize that life lived to help
    others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best
    use as a human.
    I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be
    as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve
    Martin....or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist
    as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or
    even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted
    father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to
    the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main
    task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well
    with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's
    help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining
    years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis
    and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister
    and me reading him the Psalms. This was the only point at which
    my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the
    firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to
    help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty,
    in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help
    others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use
    as a human.
    By Ben Stein
    Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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