Life’s greatest lesson


By Michael L. Ham



During my first term on the Troy City Schools Board of Education, I was asked by one the elementary principals to be a reading tutor for the first grade. Each week I was greeted by a sign hanging above the principal’s desk which read, “Be the Good in the World.” I was struck by how the simplicity of these words made them so profound. Everyone understands that we as human beings have a moral responsibility to do what is right and to help others as we are able. However, in a society which teaches us to seek instant gratification and the material best of everything, the giving of ourselves for the good of others sometimes gets lost amidst the noise of life.

I am fortunate that throughout my journey I’ve had many wonderful examples who have shown me what life’s greatest lesson truly is. When I came to Troy almost two decades ago, I met the man who would teach me more about giving and caring for others than I could have ever bargained for. Luckily for me, Chris Karnehm was assigned to be my aide during my eighth-grade year. It was his job to make sure that all my physical needs were met and that I was at the right place at the right time. Sounds simple enough… right? In truth, what Chris did for me and brought to my life went so far above that of an aide or caretaker. He became for me, a role model; the personification of selflessness. One who is always putting the needs of others first. We all have that one friend or know someone who is the caretaker, the one who works behind the scenes to make others shine. That is Chris. To this day, he is always there for me when I need him, but never out front, no matter how many times I try to put him there. To say that “aide or caretaker” was his only role in my life is to miss out on the very core of what this remarkably dynamic individual brought to my being. For me, he represented a life altering force which changed my path, and in all likelihood saved me. He took the time to meet a disabled young man where he was at, in a critical moment of his life, and brought into that life people and opportunities which made it fun and exciting. In my previous writings, I have discussed how Troy social studies teachers Scot Brewer and Gene Steinke were my heroes because of the way in which they provided me with a blueprint for how to live. It is thanks to Chris that I have what I call, “the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.” Scot and Gene have been lifelong friends to Chris, and somehow, he knew that I needed something that only they could give me.

Here we come to another part of Life’s Greatest Lesson. Chris’s example shows that goodness attracts goodness. The best of friends bring out the best in us, but they also bring the best to us. When Chris introduced Scot and Gene to me, he gave me the two best gifts anyone could ever receive. If I’m being honest, there is a third gift I must thank Chris for. His heart. Naturally, after spending so much time together over the years, we know each other very well. Have you ever been around someone who gives one hundred percent of who they are to what they do? This is what Chris does every day of his life. He put his all into my success, and in every achievement I’ve had, be it a college education, speeches, writings, or books; I’ve taken a bit of Chris’s heart with me along the way.

His is the type of character which is rooted in humility. Chris reminds us all that good people never have to boast or call undo attention to the impact that they have on another person. One just knows that when in their presence there is someone who embodies the best of humanity, quietly nudging those around them to be the best possible version of themselves. This underpins the meaning of Chris’s existence. He spends his life making those around him better. In doing so, he is teaching us all a very important lesson. Namely, that in one hundred years people will know that you and I were on this earth. What will remain is not the money we had, or the degree of influence we held; but rather how we Life’s Greatest Lesson

During my first term on the Troy City Schools Board of Education, I was asked by one the elementary principals to be a reading tutor for the first grade. Each week I was greeted by a sign hanging above the principal’s desk which read, “Be the Good in the World.” I was struck by how the simplicity of these words made them so profound. Everyone understands that we as human beings have a moral responsibility to do what is right and to help others as we are able. However, in a society which teaches us to seek instant gratification and the material best of everything, the giving of ourselves for the good of others sometimes gets lost amidst the noise of life.

I am fortunate that throughout my journey I’ve had many wonderful examples who have shown me what life’s greatest lesson truly is. When I came to Troy almost two decades ago, I met the man who would teach me more about giving and caring for others than I could have ever bargained for. Luckily for me, Chris Karnehm was assigned to be my aide during my eighth-grade year. It was his job to make sure that all my physical needs were met and that I was at the right place at the right time. Sounds simple enough… right? In truth, what Chris did for me and brought to my life went so far above that of an aide or caretaker. He became for me, a role model; the personification of selflessness. One who is always putting the needs of others first. We all have that one friend or know someone who is the caretaker, the one who works behind the scenes to make others shine. That is Chris. To this day, he is always there for me when I need him, but never out front, no matter how many times I try to put him there. To say that “aide or caretaker” was his only role in my life is to miss out on the very core of what this remarkably dynamic individual brought to my being. For me, he represented a life altering force which changed my path, and in all likelihood saved me. He took the time to meet a disabled young man where he was at, in a critical moment of his life, and brought into that life people and opportunities which made it fun and exciting. In my previous writings, I have discussed how Troy social studies teachers Scot Brewer and Gene Steinke were my heroes because of the way in which they provided me with a blueprint for how to live. It is thanks to Chris that I have what I call, “the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.” Scot and Gene have been lifelong friends to Chris, and somehow, he knew that I needed something that only they could give me.

Here we come to another part of Life’s Greatest Lesson. Chris’s example shows that goodness attracts goodness. The best of friends bring out the best in us, but they also bring the best to us. When Chris introduced Scot and Gene to me, he gave me the two best gifts anyone could ever receive. If I’m being honest, there is a third gift I must thank Chris for. His heart. Naturally, after spending so much time together over the years, we know each other very well. Have you ever been around someone who gives one hundred percent of who they are to what they do? This is what Chris does every day of his life. He put his all into my success, and in every achievement I’ve had, be it a college education, speeches, writings, or books; I’ve taken a bit of Chris’s heart with me along the way.

His is the type of character which is rooted in humility. Chris reminds us all that good people never have to boast or call undo attention to the impact that they have on another person. One just knows that when in their presence there is someone who embodies the best of humanity, quietly nudging those around them to be the best possible version of themselves. This underpins the meaning of Chris’s existence. He spends his life making those around him better. In doing so, he is teaching us all a very important lesson. Namely, that in one hundred years people will know that you and I were on this earth. What will remain is not the money we had, or the degree of influence we held; but rather how we made people feel, and the extent to which we helped another person along the way. To me, this is what it means to be, “The Good in the World.” Chris taught me that. Be the good… it’s Life’s Most Important Lesson.

made people feel, and the extent to which we helped another person along the way. To me, this is what it means to be, “The Good in the World.” Chris taught me that. Be the good … it’s Life’s Most Important Lesson.

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By Michael L. Ham

Michael Ham is a city of Troy employee and a member of the Troy City Schools Board of Education.

Michael Ham is a city of Troy employee and a member of the Troy City Schools Board of Education.