Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ordinary People

"They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."Matthew 23:6-12
Yesterday I picked up copies of my medical records from one specialist, in order to bring them to another specialist. As I walked to my car I started reading the report, which began by saying, “Mr. Trench is a very pleasant 63 year old man . . .”


Of course, it could have been worse. Pleasant is better than unpleasant. In fairness to the doctor, he meant no harm. And I guess I could be happy about the “very.”

But I don’t think I have ever been described as “very pleasant.” It was a humbling moment to recognize that in the eyes of this specialist, I was just a “very pleasant 63 year old man” with a collection of symptoms. Even on the basis of a short interview, I would hope to be more than that.

Shortly after I went through the defense of my dissertation and received official confirmation that I had earned a Ph.D., I shared the good news with my grandmother. Her first question was when can you use it? I told her I could use it right away, and asked if she wanted me to explain Kant’s Categorical Imperative. “No,” she said, “I mean when do people start calling you ‘doctor’?”

Three are at least two lessons here. I am one of the privileged ones. I am often “greeted with respect in the marketplaces.” Within our church family, I tend to avoid formalities. I tell the adults to call me, “Bill,” and the kids to call me, “Pastor Bill.” I don’t want to be introduced as “Reverend” or “Doctor.” But giving up a title is very different from having it taken away. The first lesson is, it’s probably good for me to have that experience.

The second lesson is that lots of people go through life without getting much respect. Some do jobs where they get very little affirmation. Others live with disabilities. Some are faced with circumstances which deny any possibility of what we call success. I was experiencing something that others experience for a lifetime.

The truth is that no one is ordinary. Each of us is special and unique.

Years ago I was asked to do a funeral for a man who did not belong to our church. I went to the calling hours at the funeral home, out of respect for the family and because I know that during that time I can often get a sense of who the person is. I stood in line to pray at the casket and to greet the family. When I knelt at the casket I could hear the family talking with friends about this man whom I had never met, and about how special he had been to them. And I prayed silently, “Lord, do not let me trivialize this life.”


  1. Bill, I check your comments everyday watching eagerly for the next post. Often I consider posting a response, usually in agreement, just to let you know readers are out here and appreciate what you do. Today is as good a day as any, literally.
    I love your story today because it is what I call a "little lesson", the kind that is available in all our lives regardless of the news or hot topics of the day. It is the kind we are often too busy to consider, but there it is, offered again and again, ready to teach when we are ready to learn. This is a "pebble for my pocket". I hope to use it as a touchstone as I encounter people through my days. In regard to myself, may I walk humbly, and in regard to others "Lord, do not let me trivialize this life."

  2. It seems that nothing in our lives can have such a deep effect upon us as the humbling assault we experience via the 'health-care system'. We are laid-bare (for "our own good" admittedly but all too often disturbing none the less.); before the seemingly emotionless face of the professionals who, we believe, are supposed to be "helping" us.
    Although disturbing, perhaps this assault can engender a new perspective and, further, understanding/acceptance where it was absent (or dormant?). Is it worth the 'discomfort'? Mebbe. A valuable 'object lesson'? I think experience will continue to bear this out.