Expounds on how to see with the eyes of our inner man and with our head.
I propose to start this discourse with the life and times of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (popularly known as FDR). He will forever remain a hero of American history. Born January 30, 1882, he was the only American President elected to more than two terms in office. Indeed he died in office.
FDR, as he was popularly known, won four presidential elections. When he was elected, the United States was in the depths of economic quagmire. So dire was the state of affairs that the period became officially known as “the Great Depression”. There was a global economic meltdown and many families were ruined. Roosevelt’s answer to the economic crisis was a program of economic pragmatism called the New Deal. In his acceptance speech as President, he declared as follows:
“Throughout the nation, men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance, and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth… I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people…”
Roosevelt won the election on the Democratic Party platform by mobilising the expanded ranks of the poor, organised labour, ethnic minorities, urbanites and Southern whites. This aggregation became known as the New Deal coalition.
Roosevelt came from a very wealthy and prestigious family. And he was an only child. He attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Massachusetts, USA. He was greatly influenced by his headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who preached that it was the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate. He urged his students to enter public service.
FDR went on to Harvard University, and attended Columbia Law School, albeit briefly. In 1907, he dropped out just after two years, having passed the New York Bar exam. He began his law career at the prestigious Wall Street firm, Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, specialising in corporate law.
While at Harvard, he joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. During this period, his fifth cousin – Theodore Roosevelt – became President of the United States. Theodore employed a vigorous leadership style, demonstrating a reforming zeal. He became FDR’s role model and hero.
The influence of these two people – his secondary school headmaster, Endicott Peabody, and his cousin, Theodore would have a profound effect on the American presidency. It was FDR who initiated what we now know as social security in America.
Before becoming President, FDR was a member of the New York State Senate from 1911 – 1913. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 – 1920 and the 44th Governor of New York from 1929 – 1932.
In August 1921, while vacationing at Campobello Island in New Brunswick, he contracted an illness which his physicians believed was polio. He became totally paralysed from the waist down. He was aged 39. An inconclusive retrospective study suggests he might have been wrongly diagnosed. It is suspected that he suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome (pronounced ge-yan ba-ra). But no matter. He was very optimistic about his recovery, refusing to accept that he had a permanent paralysis. He tried several therapies including hydro-therapy. That same spirit of optimism would later be deployed in managing the American economy through the depression.
Roosevelt was hardly ever photographed in a wheel chair and he was careful never to be seen in a wheelchair in public. He usually appeared in public standing upright, supported on either side by an aide, or his son. He was a privileged handicapped man with money and power.
Not all handicapped people are so lucky, or so privileged. And physical handicap comes in many varieties. Blindness is one. Some handicapped people are poor, very poor! One of such was a gentleman beggar, Bartimaeus Timaeus. He lived about two millennia ago, in the days of Jesus.
He is perhaps the world’s most famous beggar. History calls him Blind Bartimaeus. Unlike Roosevelt, he couldn’t hide his handicap from public view. His handicap was his identity, definition and limitation. He occupied the extreme polar end of life’s economic and social spectrum from Roosevelt. The Bible never called Bartimaeus, “Blind Bartimaeus.” A Bible editor did, and it stuck! The title header in the space just above Mark 10:46 in many Bibles reads, “Jesus heals Blind Bartimaeus.” Bartimaeus was not permanently blind. He regained his sight, cured by Jesus. But history persists in calling him blind. His sole claim to fame was that he met Jesus.