Wes Moore’s book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, tells the story of two different boys with the same name who grew up in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland, a few blocks away from each other.
As defenders of the law, they recognized an ongoing tragedy repeating itself within the African-American community: the tragedy of the African-American male who gave up his family for a life of crime and incarceration.
While their stories began the same way, their adult paths were completely different. One Wes Moore is an acclaimed speaker and author, while the other Wes Moore is a convicted murderer serving life in prison. Through a series of letters begun by author Wes Moore and eventual visits, the two Wes Moores became friends. They discussed their pasts and their boyhood decisions that brought them both to very different adult destinations. They also discussed how they were treated by the ones who loved them most early in life. Halfway through his book, author Wes Moore described how he learned from prisoner Wes Moore what the fundamental difference between the two young boys’ journeys was. In a section called “Paths Taken and Expectations Fulfilled,” he writes about an important question he asked prisoner Wes Moore during a one-hour visit.
‘Do you think we’re all just products of our environments?’
‘I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.’
‘Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?’
‘I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own…If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. If they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too.’ (p. 126).
Children need to be told and showed that the adults around them expect the very best. We should expect 100% effort in everything they do. We should expect that they will be kind and honest in all of their endeavors. We should expect respect, and we should expect hard work in every context. In order for a child to accept the challenge of high expectations, he has to realize that he matters. He matters enough for his mom to work two jobs. He matters enough for someone to ask about his day. He matters enough to be missed when he is absent. He matters enough to be celebrated when he comes home from school. He matters enough to be adopted. He matters enough to follow through on promises made. He matters enough to discipline. He matters enough to be heard. His past matters, his present matters, and his future matters the most.
Showing that a life matters, however goes deeper than convincing a child that he is seen and noticed. Convincing a child that his contributions to this world matter and that he has a finite time to make a positive difference is critical. So, this life that matters takes on a life of its own. Not only is it a life with great expectations and a life that matters, but what is poured into this life comes back out in a way that makes an impact on other human beings.
Wes Moore wrote about this subject when he described a speech given by the Commandant of Cadets, Colonel Billy Murphy. It would be Colonel Murphy’s final speech to the military school Wes Moore attended because Colonel Murphy was dying of cancer. Author Wes Moore mattered so much to his mom who was trying to raise him by herself, that she found a way to take him off the streets that were devaluing her son. She sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where Wes found himself again. At this school, Wes Moore learned the art of mattering—not only did he learn that he mattered, but he learned that his life needed to matter in a way that affected others in a positive way. He learned that his actions and influence could possibility become bigger than himself. Wes Moore was deeply affected and changed during this time as he became less self-centered and more focused on how he could make a positive difference. When he heard Colonel Murphy’s last speech at Valley Forge, the words made complete sense. In his speech, Colonel Murphy said,
“When it is time for you to leave this school, leave your job, or even leave this earth, you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were ever here.” Wes Moore commented that “Life’s impermanence . . . is what makes every single day so precious. It’s what shapes our time here. It’s what makes it so important that not a single moment be wasted.”(p. 133).
As we begin a new year, we are hopeful that we will expect more and matter more. We are hopeful that we will teach the art of making a difference so that it will “matter that we were ever here.” After celebrating the birth of Jesus and realizing that we mattered so much to God that He was able to give us his Son, we approach this new year with renewed energy to celebrate high expectations and lives that matter.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2: 8-10