COLUMN: A Malat Musing:Capable of Anything

Updated: 05/06/2014 1:37 PM By: Phil Malat

It is now a constant in our culture.  Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and an additional cast of hundreds, now have the ability to steal the lime light within the mainstream media.  And each and every time the news reaches us we take a brief moment to ponder how those with such extraordinary advantages and blessings - blessings that the vast majority will never know – can behave so very badly. 

In the motion picture “China Town,” John Houston plays a despicable character.  He had an incestuous relationship with his daughter resulting in a pregnancy.  At one point in the movie Houston laments to Jack Nicholson his regret that he is estranged from his daughter.  Nicholson then asks, “who do you blame for that?”  Houston responds; “I don’t blame myself.  You see Mr. Getts, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place they’re capable of anything.”   It is believed by some that everyone has a breaking point, a point at which intolerable circumstances could cause a person to be “capable of anything.”

Shawn Timothy Nelson was a plumber.  His problems began when he suffered back and neck injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1990.  In 1991 his wife of six years divorced him.  In 1992 both his parents died from cancer.  While mining for gold in a mine shaft he dug in the back yard of his San Diego home, his plumbing equipment was stolen from the back of his truck.  Unable to replace the equipment, and therefore without gainful employment, his household utilities were cut off and his house was foreclosed on.  During this time, his live-in girlfriend also died from a drug overdose.

So on May 17, 1995, Nelson, a U.S. Army veteran, stole an M60 Patton military tank from a United States National Guard armory in San Diego.  He went on a vicious rampage leaving neighborhoods looking like war zones.  This carnage was finally halted when police were forced to shoot and kill Nelson.  Many surmised that circumstances caused Nelson to snap – making him “capable of anything.”

Mother Teresa also believed we are capable-of-anything.”  Her contention however, was a bit different.  “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”  This too has plenty of validation.  It comes in the form of Bobby Kline.          

Bobby has four children.  The youngest is a daughter.  At sixteen, the family was informed that Lisa had an inoperable brain tumor.  Nothing could be done.  So for months the family watched and waited for their precious little girl to pass. 

If you had met or seen Bobby during the time of this horrible ordeal you would have had no idea what he was going through.  He was never sullen or moody.  He always had a big smile for everyone and continued his awareness of those who needed a kind word or a helping hand.

On the day Lisa was put to rest I was given the blessing of having a short chat with Bobby. It was in a darkened church; in front of a Blessed Virgin Mary alter, where Bobby had just placed some fresh flowers. 

During that painful moment I told him how much I admired his character.  I also asked him how he survived this worst of all possible nightmares.  Bobby said; “Sure, I could have acted like a jerk in hundred different ways and everyone would have probably understood.  But the truth is, I still have a wife and three sons.  They are in as much pain as I am and they need me now more than they have ever needed anyone.  Nothing I could do would save Lisa…but I still had the ability to help Rosie and the boys and I couldn’t let them down.”    

Hence Mother Teresa was correct.  We are indeed capable-of-anything.

What this and other life altering experiences teach us is that focusing our attention on the needs of others, particularly in times of crisis, will lead to our embracing the Mother Teresa concept of cable-of-anything thus short circuiting the John Houston “capable of anything” belief.   For Bob Kline is why it is now impossible for me to have a bad day.

“I don’t blame myself.”  The following wisdom was passed on at an early age but took awhile to sink in. “Our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.”

Phil Malat is a columnist for