Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

 “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~ Sir Isaac Newton


All of my giants have fallen.

In the first half of this year, I’ve lost the most towering figures in my life.

First, we lost Grandpa Charlie Stangl, and while only my grandpa-in-law, he was such a presence that, for all intents and purposes, he truly became a third grandpa to me. The true definition of a man’s man, Grandpa Stangl was a World War II veteran who fought, in more ways than one, until the age of 102. And yet he was as gentle a man as I’ve ever known. Grandpa Stangl taught me that you can be tough, and gentle, all in one man.

We lost Jack Kaelin, a prominent figure in Kentucky high school sports. Second, only to my father, Mr. Kaelin impacted my life more than any other, I think. As my cross country coach, he rightfully kicked me off the cross-country team one year, only to guide me through redemption and an eventual state championship with my teammates the very next. From him I learned about humility, honor, and perseverance. Most importantly, Mr. Kaelin taught me great life lessons about behaving like a quitter…and becoming a champion.

Tim Conway, the television star, was an entertainment giant who passed away recently. Conway represented a great foregone era of wholesome comedy, a time when we could laugh at ourselves and each other, all in good fun. Conway could make me laugh even when I wasn’t watching him because if he was on the tube, my Dad would be laughing so loud that it rang throughout the house. Tim Conway taught me how important yet how easy it is to give joy to others.

Lastly, there is my Dad, Marvin Borne, who passed away just a few days ago. What doesn’t a good Dad teach his son? From his examples alone, I learned all a person ever needs to know about patience, kindness, and a little thing Dad called “stick-to-it-tive-ness.” He also taught through his example what unconditional love looks like. Just like we Christians imagine God shows unconditional love to undeserving children, well, my Dad did the same. Just speaking for myself, I often did things that deserved the opposite of unconditional love, yet Dad gave it to me all the same.

All of my giants passed away in the first half of this year. I stood on their shoulders learning the lessons they had to teach, and now that they are gone I’m feeling a bit lost. As I begin the second half of the year, I couldn’t help but notice that with their passing I am also, really, starting the second half of my “adult” life.

Maybe this is what the “midlife crisis” really is, that in our 40s and 50s we start losing the generation that came before us. With their passing, we feel leaderless, aimless, directionless. That reality—combined with a realization that perhaps we haven’t been living the life we were meant to live—hits us like a brick wall. Yes, this is what the midlife crisis really is.

With a simple twist of attitude, however, we can view the midlife crisis as a wakeup call. The wakeup call is, “Hey idiot, your adult life is halfway over! You’re running out of time to fulfill your purpose here on earth.”

And part of that purpose is to be a giant to others.

So yes, my giants are gone, and if you are from my generation, many of your giants are gone as well. What do we do with that?

Here is what we do: We start hoisting the younger generation upon our shoulders, because we are the giants now.


“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” ~ John of Salisbury


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