Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Message to Garcia

In 1899 Elbert Hubbard, a scholar and learner, teacher and revolutionary businessman from East Aurora, New York wrote “A Message to Garcia.” At 40 million copies, it became the largest selling book of all time and remained so for many decades. It even found its way into many a soldier’s back pack and was required reading for the entire Russian army. Here is an excerpt:

“When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba - no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President, "There's a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can."

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. He took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia.

The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?" It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing - "carry a message to Garcia!"

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all?

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well as when he is home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets "laid off," nor has to go on strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town, and village - in every office, shop, store and factory.

The world cries out for such; he is needed, and needed badly - the man who can carry a message to Garcia.”

While the language is male-dominant, a reflection of the times in which Hubbard lived, be clear about one thing:

The women and men who volunteered in Pearlington were those such as Rowan. They knew how to get a “message to Garcia.” They knew how to just get the job done. They knew there were a hundred questions and ten reasons why a thing might not work and only one reason why it would: because it had to.

Thanks be to fire fighters and construction teams; to faith-based groups and Americorps; to countless individuals who showed up to just get the job done. Mistakes were doubtlessly made but, thank God, they were never the mistakes of laziness, inattention and under-zealousness. In a situation wherein underachievement seemed to be the official response, never were more of this kind of volunteer needed.

I pray that such a thing is never visited upon my family and my home. If it ever is, however, I know exactly to whom I’ll look for help, support and comfort. To all the “Rowans” of Pearlington, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being who you are.

Shine on.

"Canada Jon" White


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