For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column for the online web
site called “Monday Night At Morton’s.” (Morton’s is a famous chain of
Steakhouses known to be frequented by movie stars and famous people from
around the globe)

Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life.
Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time because it
praises the most unselfish among us and portrays a valuable lesson learned
in his life.

Ben Stein’s Last Column
As I begin to write this, I “slug” it, as we writers say, which means I put
a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is “Online
FINAL,” ! and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this
column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved
writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never
end. It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person
and the world’s change have overtaken it.

On a small scale, Morton’s, while better than ever, no longer attracts as
many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and
definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we
had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with
Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass
was a super movie. But Morton’s is not the star galaxy it once was, though
it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood
stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people,
and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman
who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a
camera is no longer my idea of something we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane
luxury really be a star in today’s world, if by a “star” we mean someone
bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?

Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches
or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they
have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people,
but they are not heroes to me any longer.

A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head
into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb
or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and
the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a
road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S.
soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded
ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her
aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family
desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish
weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two
of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for
the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our
magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay
but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines
and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor
values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who
is eating at Morton’s is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament….the policemen
and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they
will return alive. The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who
have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery, the teachers
and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children,
the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of
each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade
Center as the towers began to collapse.

Now you have my idea of a real hero. We are not responsible for the
operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly

God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, He
takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word,
we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie
of our lives and turn the power over to Him. I came to realize that life
lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and
best use as a human.

I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great
an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin….or Martin Mull or
Fred Willard–or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a
writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be
a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son
to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in
life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and
well indeed with my parents (with my sister’s help).

I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed
with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and
then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers
in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived
to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in
return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has
placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

By Ben Stein

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