Wednesday, August 31, 2016
“It takes strength to be proud of yourself and to accept yourself when you know that you have something out of the ordinary about you.” ― Abigail Tarttelin
Over the course of my seventy-one years, soon to be seventy-two in November, I have had the pleasure and privilege to meet and interact with heads of state, Nobel laureates, the Ecumenical Patriarch (head of the 300 million orthodox catholics), movie stars, captains of industry (one who drove in the 24 hours of Les Mans), famous writers, an Olympic medalist, and an Oscar winning director. They were all kind, interesting, and seemed to really care about what I thought and seemed to enjoy talking to me. You’d think I’d have been awed or maybe even had my life changed by one, some, or all of them, but you’d be wrong. I liked them all, but none were potential role models for me. The people I truly admired, to whom I looked up, the ones whose lives I wanted to emulate had names that would be unknown outside of their own small circles. No headlines or press photographs of these people. Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said that “The Lord must love the common people because He made so many of them.” Don’t know about that, but some of the “common” people are definitely NOT common. My father for one. He didn’t finish high school and never attended a single day in college, but he worked hard, educated himself, and rose to become the manager of several Sears, Roebuck stores, but that’s not what made him uncommon. What made him uncommon was his fight for civil rights, his generosity, his learning Spanish so he could talk to the guys working the loading dock, his insistence on family church attendance every Sunday, and his quiet, anonymous scholarship help to the children of his lowest paid employees. Even though he and I didn’t always get along, everything that’s good about me came from him.
Another exceptional “common” man was a parishioner of mine from a small rural church in Northwest Arkansas. This man graduated from high school but that marked the end of his education. He spent the rest of his long life sacking groceries at a local grocery store. That was his only employment. In his spare time, he delivered prescriptions to shut-ins and the elderly. He served as a taxi to anyone who couldn’t drive or get around and spent almost all of his Sunday taking elderly ladies to and from their churches. He lived his faith and everyone who knew him admired and respected him. I know I did.
There’s another “common” person that I admire, respect, and hold in the highest esteem. She did get a college education, but her high school counselor told her she could never make it in college; she could only hope for an average secretarial school. She had a learning disability and had to have a lot of help from her mother and family members to get through college. She always felt inferior because she had a whole lot of trouble spelling (this was before spell-check) and was always afraid to put anything in writing. She was, however, artistic (a portrait artist who did portraits of every student she ever taught), very creative, and driven to be the best kindergarten teacher possible—something she achieved and something that almost everyone acknowledges. She struggled with her liabilities all her life, but she never let them stop her from doing what she wanted. She also had a great singing voice and was in choirs from junior high school through college and beyond. She once sang Durufle’s Requiem in a community choir under the direction of a very famous conductor. She also taught in big city ghettoes, rural schools, and schools with diverse ethnic students where she taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for years. Now this so called “common” person is finishing out her life teaching the latest in ESL and Montessori methods to African orphans and other children in Tanzania. I know her very well since I’ve been married to her for over fifty-one years. Yup, she’s a role model for me, and, I suspect, a whole lot of other folk. Her life is not free from pain and suffering, but it is free and freely given in service to her Lord. The rich and famous are known by millions, but my father, my wife, and a grocery sacker are known primarily by God. I think that’s the best way to be known.