Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson   


     “I’m just one person.  What can I do?”  We’ve all heard that and we have all felt that way.  Especially these days.  What on earth can one person do about what we have to face?  Violence, vandalism, social unrest, terrorist plots, and the Lord Himself has been physically removed from the classrooms of America.  (And by the way, don’t blame teachers for that.  Teachers didn’t do that.  The Supreme Court did.)  All that bad news spells doom for us all.  Man, we got trouble right here in River City.  As Robert Preston said in the Music Man, “Everybody’s drinkin’ and shootin’ pool, and pool ends with an L – and that rhymes with Hell – and that’s where we’re headed if we don’t change our ways!”
     Sound familiar?  What on earth can one person do?
     In 1968, a man named Paul Ehrlich wrote a book called Population Bomb.  This best seller predicted, “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death”, that nothing could be done to avoid mass famine greater than any in history.  Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.  Hundreds of millions will starve in the 70s and 80s in spite of any crash programs embarked on now.  At this late date, nothing can be done to prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”  Ehrlich – a Stanford professor, for goodness’ sake - also predicted Pakistan and India would be the first to go in just a few years.  Nothing could be done.  Certainly not by one person. 
     It’s a good thing Norman Borlaug didn’t feel that way.
     Norman was a Minnesota farm boy who – after making it through the depression – wanted to go to the University of Minnesota.  His grandfather inspired him by saying, “Your wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on.”  With high hopes, Norman set off, and promptly failed the entrance exam. 
     He then enrolled in the school’s newly created two-year General College and eventually graduated with a degree in agriculture majoring in forestry.  Norman was also a member of the university wrestling team.  He said, “College wrestling taught me I could hold my on against the best of the world.”  Even though Norman was not a man big in stature, he was big in heart.  (He was inducted in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1992.)
     According to Wikipedia, after college Borlaug worked for the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1935 working with the unemployed on U. S. federal projects.  Many of the people who worked for him were starving.  He later recalled, “I saw how food changed them.  All of this left scars on me.”   (Once again we see so often our mission comes from our misery.)  Borlaug was inspired by a professor named Elvin Charles Stakman whom Borlaug heard lecture on plant pathology.  Later they became friends and Stakman encouraged Norman to focus on elimination of plant diseases.  Why am I telling you all this?  Watch what happens…watch what one person can do.
     Combining these events in his life, Borlaug became convinced the problem of world hunger was solvable!  While Dr. Ehrlic was sittin’ on his dead butt in an air-conditioned office at Stanford whining about the end of the world, Stormin’ Norman hopped on over to Pakistan and said, “Hope is alive!  Let me show you how to plant disease-resistant wheat.”  In three years, Pakistan doubled their wheat production.  Then Borlaug went to India – all of whom should be dead by now, according to Ehrlich - and within six years, India farmers mastered all of the cereals. 
     Ehrlich was recently interviewed about his dire predictions and the fact that almost none came true.  (‘Course he still made millions on his book.)  His response was, “Uh…well, uh, it’s still a shame that so many are hungry.” Yes, it is a shame that anybody is hungry, but hold on here a minute, Pablo. You said, ‘everybody’s gonna’ die.’  Maybe I’m just splitting hairs here, but seems to me there’s a difference between being hungry…and being dead.
     Borlaug died in September of this year.  He spent the last few years of his life teaching at Texas A&M University at College Station… which proves he was smarter than Ehrlich in the first place.
     So what can one person do? 
     One person can love and inspire their grandchild.  One person can feed a charm of hummingbirds, change a child’s life at a public school, help an abused horse heal, cook for the entire family on Thanksgiving, be a life-long friend, and one person can – as Norman Borlaug did – receive such honors as the Nobel Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal because he…one person…saved a billion lives!
     Airugo, Norman!
     Whenever we feel weak and unable to cope, we often say, “What can I do? I’m just one person.”  On those occasions, we should remember - when the world is changed, it’s always by just one person.

                                               In memory of Norman Borlaug –                                                March 25th, 1914 - September 12th, 2009

                                                                                           -- Michael Johnson


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