Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of being a famous actor. As a teenager I always enjoyed performing in high school plays, and I even majored in theater my freshman year in college.
In fact, I used to look a lot like a famous actor back in my younger days. Unfortunately though, this actor isn’t famous for his formidable thespian talents. No, this actor is famed for perpetrating one of the most shocking and senseless murders in American history: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Yeah, I hate to admit it. But just look at these two pictures below:
On the left is John Wilkes Booth. On the right is me at about the same age. If my hair was a bit curlier (and it really was – I straightened it with a blow-dryer) I could be his evil twin.
Well, I guess he would be the evil one. But you see what I mean.
Since we do share that uncanny physical resemblance, and because of our common aspiration to the stage, I’ve always been a bit fascinated with John Wilkes Booth. I sometimes wonder, absent the terrible thing he did, how history would have remembered him. By all accounts, he was a very talented performer, well-known and successful in his profession. Presumably he would have gone on to receive notoriety as a highly respected Shakespearean actor, as did his brother Edwin.
But of course, none of that ever happened. All because of five minutes.
It only took five minutes for Booth to walk up those stairs, maneuver his way into the presidential box, point a gun at Lincoln’s head and pull the trigger. Yet, that is all he is remembered for. No matter how accomplished an actor he might have been, no matter what good he may have done in his short life, he will forever be remembered as the villain who shot and killed President Lincoln on that tragic April night in 1865.
So in light of all that, I ask each of you:
Which five minutes of your life will you be remembered for?
It’s an unsettling question, isn’t it? I know there are many moments in my life for which I definitely do not want to be remembered. Times when I was angry, annoyed, depressed, or in a cantankerous mood, and acted like a first-class jerk to everyone around me. I’ve certainly said and done some things I wish I could erase from history. Nothing so heinous as cold-blooded murder, mind you. Just unkind words. Selfish actions. Still, I’d hate to think that all anyone will remember about me is five minutes on a bad day.
I would hope that at the end, my good deeds will outweigh the bad, and the balance of my legacy will be on the positive side of the ledger. At the same time, I realize that Booth wasn’t so lucky. For him, the ledger book was discarded. The balance didn’t matter. He will always and only be remembered for the worst thing he ever did.
And it only took him five minutes.
Me and John, we’re alike in a lot of ways. We were once actors. We once sported a headful of hair and a dapper mustache. And we once had 300 seconds to do better than we did.
But here’s where we’re different: His five minutes are up. He wrote his story and punched his ticket out. God willing, I still have another five minutes. To brighten someone’s day. To offer a helping hand. Maybe I could even alter the course of history – if not for a nation, then at least for one person. And for the better this time, thank you.
Every five minutes is a divine gift. May I use each of them wisely, and for something good.
Because even though I can’t choose who I look like …
For the next five minutes …
and the next …
and the next …
I can choose who I will be.