George Washington Vanderbilt was born into one of the most affluent families of the time. He grew up not wanting for anything. He was able to live a life many could only dream of. He would not allow himself, however, to be defined by those terms alone.
Wealth, for George, was the reality but it was not what made him the man he was. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of documented accounts of his generosity and his kind spirit. It is most definitely easier to be generous when you are not worried where your next meal is coming from. But it is still doable no matter your lot in life.
George could have rested on his grandfather’s or his father’s laurels, but he decided not to do that. He was a man with a unique vision of the time. Conservation. Self-sufficient living. Changing the lives of people around you for the better. These concepts are normal thinking today, but not so much in the late 1800s.
How many of us define ourselves by our pasts or by the way we look or perceive how we think others see us? The most beautiful flower in the garden can be hiding a devastating bug infestation. What we show is not always the truth. But our actions, our deeds, show the truth and the reality.
I used to spend way to much time and money trying to show how perfect my life was. I judged myself harshly on my misspent youth, therefore, I let my youth and my new found “perfection” define who I was. Because it was all a lie, I was miserable.
Now I can see the honest truth. Like George, I’m not perfect but I want my motives to pure. I want to define myself by the kindness I share and the positive change I can make.
George had a St. Bernard named Cedric. From the outward appearance Cedric was an overwhelming beast who might have instilled fear. He was massive, some say up to 200 pounds of pure dog. But under the facade he was the most loving dog a family could have.
It could be said that Cedric might be used as a metaphor for George’s home, Biltmore. From the outside, the building looks overwhelming and cold. It’s size almost dictates that feel, but on the inside it was a loving home for friends and family. You can never tell just by first glance. Looking deeper is where the rubber meets the road. Looking deeper, inside ourselves and those around us, ensures the view we see is correct. Defining ourselves on the surface stuff is not the truth. I am going to look deeper into myself and define myself in a true way that reflects positively on my life and the world around me.
Thank you, George, for being an example. I hope I too can one day be remembered as fondly.