Updated: May 3, 2020
I have a strange obsession with Paul Revere.
It began when I visited Boston at this time last year. The air was crisp, the leaves were rosy and the streets were littered with color. Fall is my favorite season. I tend to rotate through favorites… but lately, fall is at the top of the list.
More than any other season, I love how fall teaches us that change is normal. That we need to let the leaves fall. It’s part of the process, and if we pause to appreciate it, we can see the beauty.
So, last year I found myself in Boston in the fall with my soon-to-be fiancé, and now husband, walking on the red brick Freedom Trail through Little Italy when we stumbled upon Paul Revere’s home. I convinced him to pay the $5 per person to go in.
If you know Paul Revere’s story, which most Americans do, he is famous for his midnight ride to alert the colonies that the British were coming. To many of us, he is a legend and quintessential revolutionary. Because of his warning, the colonies were able to win the battles of Lexington and Concord, which kickstarted the Revolutionary War.
To be honest, his house wasn’t very impressive. I didn’t learn more about Paul by seeing the weave of his bedspread or learning about the wood on his floors. At the end of the tour, it was a section of obituaries that caught my eye.
When I read the tattered newspaper clippings, there was little mention of that fateful day. Paul was obviously esteemed, but many people described him as simply "useful". No one used words like extraordinary, legendary or revolutionary - all words that you’d think someone like Paul deserved. Today, we describe him in such terms, but back then they didn’t.
What struck me most was that it wasn't because those words weren’t true of him. Those were just not adjectives they valued. They valued someone who was useful and faithful to the life they were given, and in the eyes of society at the time, that was Paul Revere.
He did his duty, and he did it well. And because of that, alone, he was honored.
Now, that is a revolutionary thought.
Paul became famous for his midnight ride much later when Henry Wadsforth Longfellow wrote a poem about it, immortalizing his actions in fiction. It was then that his legendary status was born. Prior to that, he was a man that people respected who did exactly what he needed to do. In reality, he was just one of many riders that night.
Longfellow’s words made Paul more than a man, he became a symbol of hope and the revolutionary ideal in early America. The clincher is that the poem wasn’t written until after Paul died. He would never know how his actions during that ride rippled through time to today.
Here’s why this is so important.
Many of the people that we describe as revolutionaries in our history books, stories and paintings on our walls, were people who didn’t necessarily seek fame or fortune. They were often people who were faithful to the time, place and work they were given to do. They were people with a strong moral compass and enough courage to follow its direction.
They had a job to do and they did it well. They were useful and faithful to the life and talents they were given. And later, it was society that deemed their actions extraordinary.
Today, we think that extraordinary and legendary are words that we can hustle for and earn. If we can create just the right piece of art, work or viral social media content, our lives will have significance and we will cultivate real and meaningful change in this world.
Unfortunately, that’s not how revolutions begin. We don’t get to decide how far our actions ripple in this world. That is beyond our control.
All we can do is be useful. We can seek positive change and the best for those around us. We can be faithful in our own lives, cultivate our talents within, help those in need and pursue the passion that weighs on our hearts on the daily.
This translates into loving our families well. Standing up for what we believe in. Writing the book. Singing the song. Getting friends together to perform that play or film that movie. That is all we can do.
We can act. We can speak. We can show up for the people we love. We can care.
That is the pathway to revolution.
Because of our faithfulness, there may come a time where we are given a moment where our actions ripple in time – like the night of Paul Revere’s ride. That time may come. We may create a piece of art like the Mona Lisa, that was just another painting to Da Vinci, but is now the most popular work of art in the world today.
That time or masterpiece may come… but it may not.
And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. It was not up to you or me to determine that in the first place. At the very end of our lives, all that we can hope for is to be seen as Paul Revere was by those who knew him best.
We can be useful.