On the day of my Great Uncle’s funeral, I met the man whose life he saved.
Last month I spent a day in Newcastle, Delaware at the funeral of my Great Uncle, Miles Bart. He was 82 years old.
For over 40 years, Miles Bart suffered from manic depression. Prior to succumbing to this disease and spiraling into a 20-year stint of unrelenting depression, Miles was a rocket scientist who built the very first fuel rods that sent our NASA rockets up to space. He was a brilliant and charming man, and as one of his first co-workers described him at the funeral service, “a true gentleman.”
At the funeral Miles was eulogized by 6 people; five close family members, and a man that no one recognized. This gentleman didn’t say his name or why he was there, but when my cousin asked if anyone would like to share their thoughts about Miles Bart, this man stood and walked quietly and resolutely to the podium.
He began to describe the social work that was so dear to my Uncles Miles. In 1991 he founded an organization called New Directions – which sought to help those who suffered from depression by providing therapy hotlines and organizing support groups. This man also explained my Uncle’s initial impetus for starting New Directions: one day in the peak of his depression, Miles had decided to take his own life. As he stood on the precipice of a cliff, he asked God to send him a sign. – and He did – in the form of deafening thunder. And so my uncle stepped down, turned around, and started New Directions.
This man at the podium, who no one knew, ended his eulogy with one of the most poignant moments I have ever witnessed. One day, about 15 years ago, he too had decided to end his life. Before doing so, he gave himself one last chance and decided to call the New Directions hotline. On the other end of that line was my great Uncle Miles. This man said that Miles Bart saved his life, and because of this phone call, he was able to cope with his illness and eventually went on to build a family of his own.
While my Uncle and I were not close while he was alive, this story has inspired me. Uncle Miles has shown me how one person can make a profound difference in the lives of others.
In closing, I guess I just wanted to say that, like my Great Uncle did, please take a moment today to make a difference in someone’s life. And never doubt the power of the smallest act of compassion. It just might save a life.