Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Need to Be "Special"

I'm a product, as much as anyone else in our society, of the implied doctrine of our culture:  That everyone must be special.  I don't mean the notion that each person is special just by virtue of being the unique person he is.  That's true, and sound.  Rather, I mean the notion that we are worth nothing unless we accomplish something extraordinary, something that sets us apart from the masses.  According to this logic, the new dream is to rise far above the norm, to do something or lead a life that would never be considered "ordinary." 

I, at least so far, lead an incredibly ordinary life that few would have heard of.   I'm not being falsely modest, here:  I have talent, I'm told; some even say my talents are extraordinary, and while I'm not qualified to judge that for myself, this post isn't about contradicting them.  But even if they're right, these talents haven't really gotten me anywhere, nor put me "on the map," not even a small and obscure map.  I sing well, but I'm no famous singer, locally nor otherwise.  I'm told I write well, but I haven't had anything published outside of whatever work I contributed to my High School yearbook.  I can draw, but my art does not hang in a museum, nor has it ever been something I might sell on a large scale.  As a father, I lead, but I do not really lead anyone outside of my family.  On the whole, there is no stranger who would see my face or even my name, and wonder "Hey, isn't that the guy who X?"  Not even on the local level, really, as I don't even have the sort of job where my name might precede me to someone who needs my services.  I know a few people who may fit such descriptions, but I'm not one of them.  As I often say:  I am an ordinary man privileged to know extraordinary people who do extraordinary things.

One thing that is extraordinary in my life is that I've been extraordinarily blessed.  My life may be ordinary, but it is also a comfortably middle class life, one that is maintained with no real effort from me.  I'm living the old style American dream (think, from the fifties, back when the dream simply meant having a nice home, in a nice neighborhood, with a wonderful family, as opposed to the modern American dream that involves being "special"), and it has fallen right into my lap, without my having really lifted a finger to obtain it--and this in spite of the fact that I was born into relative poverty.  That is extraordinary, and I appreciate it.  I am incredibly thankful to God for it, I am humbled by the knowledge that I cannot boast about anything I have, because God has literally handed it to me.  But still, nothing in terms of my accomplishments or reputation can be said to be out of the ordinary.  And it's very easy for me to get insecure about that. 

There's a quote that's attributed to Abraham Lincoln:
"God must love the common man; he made so many of them."
That's my hope.  That God doesn't need me to have stood out, nor to have accomplished something that will be well known.  I don't have to make some sort of "famous" mark in the world, or to be known far and wide.  My name may only ever ring familiar to a comparably small circle of people, all of whom have met me on a personal basis.  Mention of me may never prick the ears nor even vaguely play with the memories of strangers.  Yet that's okay.  God loves me.  He values me. 

St. Therese of Lisieux constantly extolled the virtues of being "small."  And indeed, Jesus often blessed those who would qualify as the "least of these."  He said some who are last would be first, and the first shall be last.  So maybe, I hope, it's okay to be so small, in the grand scheme of things, as to be virtually invisible. 

Yet I'm ambitious, and I fear that this ambition will rob me of whatever Heavenly reward is reserved for those who humbly accept their smallness.  My name is small, my face unknown, but my ego, sadly, is big.  So I want to be much more than I am.  I want to have fame, to have large and impressive accomplishments on my record.  I want people to know my name and my work.  I am small, but not humble; I am filled with a pride that refuses to modestly accept my lot of obscurity and anonymity.  I fear, then, that I will suffer a terrible fate:  I will have been small in this life and then be least in the Kingdom of Heaven as well.  Never first in this life, I may well be last in Heaven too.  What sort of fool hungers for greatness on this Earth, when he knows that the tradeoff for such greatness--unless he is amazingly humble about it--is that he will not be great in eternity?

I know of no salve for my anxiety except to turn my eyes upon the Lord, and to stop caring about whether I'm small or extraordinary, even in eternity.  If I focus more on loving our most precious God, and on loving man who is made in His image, then I will find that it doesn't matter if I'm famous or unknown, small or great.  Because then I will be happy, as was the Canaanite woman in the gospels, with even the mere "crumbs that fall from the table."  If I can lose myself in love of others, then I can find joy, and freedom from worrying about my "place" in this life or the next.  I'm nowhere near being there, yet.  But I pray that God will grant me the grace to get there.  Then, there will be peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment