Relevance, Relative, Reverent ...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 10:45am
John Kushma


I was trying to remember the name of that Leonardo DiCaprio movie where he is viciously mauled by a bear.  Was it ...Relevance? ..Reverent? ...Relative? ... I just couldn’t call it up in my mind.  It was ‘The ‘Revenant’.  The word is a noun and it refers to a person who has returned from the dead. 


It got me thinking about all these other similar sounding words jumbling around in my head ...  


Statistics show that 16 out of every 27 people are ‘relevant’.  With a margin of error of +/- 3, that’s roughly about half of us. 


These statistics, however, were provided by the former Trump University School of Deceptive Engineering of Facts, Applied Media & Egotistical Studies (DEFAMES).  So, take that for what it’s worth regarding credibility and personal accountability as applied to “relevant” individuals. 


Relevance is not an exact science, however.  It couldn’t be since it is totally subjective in its core properties.  There is no fact-based periodic table of elements for relevance.  No tabular display of chemicals or characteristics arranged by atomic number, electron configuration and recurring chemical properties.  No, relevance is a fluid progression of thought, consensus and popular opinion often sidetracked by one anomaly after another.  Unfair and subjective as it may be, relevance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  


The question is always ...relevant to whom? 


Take, for instance, my father’s friend, Joey.  Joey is seemingly totally irrelevant, having no impact on anything or anyone except for his unique ability to annoy everyone ...  


However, upon further examination, it turns out that Joey was a war hero and a very relevant figure, especially, to about a hundred people in a small village in France in June of 1944 ...and forever after.  Hardly anyone knows this about Joey.  As a younger man during WW II, just days after the D-Day allied invasion at Normandy, PFC Joseph Pellegrino, miraculously surviving the first wave assault on Omaha Beach, put his life on the line again when he saw a Nazi Panzer tank about to obliterate a school building full of frightened students and teachers.  What Joey did that day was not only heroic and relevant, it was a supernaturally unselfish act of human response to danger and the preservation of life. 


Joey, seeing what was about to happen and sizing up the situation, instinctively -- his instinct, while others may have run for cover -- ran toward the Nazi tank as its turret gun was positioning to aim at the school building full of children.  While under intense fire and being shot several times, he climbed onto this mammoth, frightening machine, opened the hatch, threw himself inside and, “just went apes**t on whoever he could get his hands on” (paraphrasing the citation) killing the tank commander and wounding two others of the Nazi crew.  Joey’s action delayed what seemed to be the inevitable destruction of the school and the sure death of the people inside long enough for help to arrive and secure the situation. 


Joey, I called him “Uncle Joey” ever after my father told me that story, never talked about this episode in his life, and my dad told me to never ask him about it.  Apparently, it was personal and he wanted to keep it that way.  I guess it was a religious experience between Joey and God.  


Sometimes I wondered if it was a true story, and my dad was just making it up to take the heat off Uncle Joey to deflect from his annoying personality.  However, I was in Uncle Joey’s room at his apartment in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn once and I saw a box full of letters all from a town in France, most of them written in French.  Some were old and some were dated current.  Some contained photos of men and women and children and families.  A few were in English and full of words and expressions of thanks, love and appreciation for not only saving the lives of the individuals but for saving the life of the town. 


It was true.  Uncle Joey was relevant.  More than relevant.  I’m not sure what more than relevant would be, but Uncle Joey was whatever that was plus a whole lot more.  


I never questioned anybody’s relevance again after learning about Uncle Joey.  I try to keep my impressions to myself (and everybody reading my columns) because you can never be sure of people, really sure, about what’s in their heart, or their head for that matter, and you can never be sure that your impressions are correct or not subject to change.  You can’t tell a book by its cover.  But sometimes you can ...  


That leaves the elephant in the living room.  The anomaly, Donald Trump.  President Goldfinger.  Is this elephant relevant?  He must be relevant, he’s the President of the United States.  


How about the other elephants in our living room like Supreme Court Justice, Brett “Suds” Kavanaugh, or U.S. Attorney General William “Lowered Expectations” Barr, or Rudi “Truth Isn’t Truth” Giuliani ...or “Pompous” Michael Pompeo?  These men would all be included in the Trump U statistics as relevant individuals.  However, I don’t see that they are relevant like Uncle Joey is relevant, or like JFK, FDR or Honest Abe were relevant.  They seem to be relevant more like Attila the Hun, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro ...or even Adolph Hitler. 


But relevance is relative, isn’t it?  It can be both negative and positive.  It’s to whom you are relevant, how, and who is relevant to you.  Eva Braun, Hitler’s longtime companion, and wife during those last moments of his notorious life said of him, “Well, he was nice to me.”  


Although relevance is not an exact science there is a baseline of truth, a point of no return from which right is objectively right and wrong objectively wrong.  A point where, beyond a mere opinion from a single individual, relevance becomes irrelevant.  It’s the baseline of truth that all truly relevant people, the 16 of the 27, know in their heart, and they act on it instinctively Uncle Joey.  


There’s reverence there.  He is a revenant.  He is truly relevant, to many, and with Uncle Joey it’s not relative.  He’s the real deal.                    



John Kushma is a communication consultant and lives in Logan, Utah.