Paul Greenberg

Blessed is the man who has found his mission. We all know people like that. Their station in life, as the Victorians used to put it, doesn't matter. Whether rich or poor, professional or blue-collar, employer or employee, artist or laborer, they're right where they belong. How fortunate for the rest of us.

Kirby Martin, for example. He manages the building occupied by the Baptist State Convention on Capitol Avenue in downtown Little Rock. When an obviously disturbed man walked in around lunchtime one Wednesday, the receptionist could tell this was no ordinary caller. He was clearly distraught, disturbed, dangerous.

Using a special emergency code, she called Mr. Martin, who followed the man to the second floor, where he found himself looking down the barrel of a gun. Kirby Martin yelled as loud as he could and retreated downstairs to tell the receptionist to call 911. Then he remembered: There was a banquet that day. The dining area upstairs would be full of people.

"Immediately," he would recall later, "I thought, 'All those people up there. I've got to get up there.' "

He did, the elevator door opened upstairs, and there was the armed man. Looking only at the intruder's face - not his weapon - Kirby Martin held the door open for him, and the two rode downstairs.

"In his face," Mr. Martin would remember, "I saw just a pale, lost-looking, desperate man. He was wearing khakis and a nice shirt. What came to my mind was that he was a pastor or staff member of a church that was in serious trouble."

Timothy Dale Johnson was no preacher, but he was in serious trouble, all right. A few minutes earlier, he'd shot and killed Bill Gwatney, chairman of the state's Democratic Party, at party headquarters seven blocks up the street.

Now he got into the elevator with Kirby Martin, and rode downstairs with him. "What is it?" Mr. Martin asked him. The intruder walked toward the building's front door. "I've lost my job," is all he said. By then he'd tucked the gun into the back of his pants, and was gone. He'd never fired a shot in a building full of people.

Less than an hour later, he would be dead, shot and killed when he was stopped and confronted by the police who'd picked up his trail and chased him 34 miles before the showdown. The reasons for his behavior that morning remain cloudy. There are the usual indications of a mental problem, the usual investigation is proceeding, and attention is being paid, as usual, too late.

But this much is clear: Kirby Martin did just what needed to be done, preventing who knows what might have happened.

To quote his boss, Dan Jordan, the Baptist Convention's business manager:

"Kirby always exhibits respect for those people he has to lead out of our building. He never degrades them. I'll find him out on the sidewalk 30 minutes later talking to them about their faith and about where they are in life. Kirby is not an ordained minister. Kirby is a man who shares his faith - especially with those people he considers down and out."

It's as if he were put here for just that purpose. And found himself in just the right place at just the right time to do just the right thing. There are no coincidences, as a rabbi once told me.

"The One Thing You Must Do" is the title of a poem by Rumi, the Persian mystic who wrote in the 13th century in the Sufi tradition:

"There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there's nothing to worry about; but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.

"It is as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don't do it, it's as though a knife of the finest tempering were nailed into a wall to hang things on. For a penny an iron nail could be bought to serve for that."

Blessed is the man who's found his calling, his mission, his particular work, the one thing he must do - and does it. And so blesses us all.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.