Countless people all over the world, billions of them, suffer a curse that has afflicted mankind since the beginning of time. They’re “ordinary.”
I suppose for the greater mass of humanity, it’s a handicap not to be named to Phi Beta Kappa, not to be the starting quarterback or even the second-string quarterback on the Greenwich High football team, not to stand out in a crowd because you have a face that rivals or even resembles Brad Pitt’s or Angelina Jolie’s or the Kardashians’.
In an era when narcissism is a national epidemic, shouldn’t all of us have some distinguishing feature that makes us special? Or are we doomed to be just another face in the crowd, wandering through time with nothing outstanding to set us apart?
Now, however, with the advent of the “selfie” – the self-portrait photo taken with your cell phone – anyone can be an instant celebrity by posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition because millions of others are doing the same thing.
I certainly understand the curse of being ordinary. Ordinary people have no trophies on the bookcase, they drive ordinary cars like a Toyota Rav 4, they go to ordinary schools where they study ordinary subjects like English or accounting or business. Your eyes skip over ordinary people in a crowd. They’re a blur because there’s nothing special about them.
My whole life was a revolt against being ordinary. I wanted to do things, say things and create things that would set me apart from the crowd … until one fateful day after constant striving for even small distinctions, it occurred to me that God loved me despite my ordinariness. Furthermore, all the praise and prestige could actually be an impediment in our relationships with God because so often they’re associated with that fundamental human flaw – the capital sin of “pride,” which brought down another seeker of prestige – Lucifer. And look how he ended up.
God loves humility. As Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
Unfortunately, it took me some time before I could grasp that God has a special love for ordinary and humble people and that what sets all of us apart isn’t how we look, what we know, where we live or what we do.
God loves us for who we are. I probably heard that a thousand times when I was growing up but never really believed it. To my thinking, I was nothing special so what was there to love? I thought love had to be earned, that it was a reward for achievement, something along the lines of the Employee of the Month Award.
But God sees things differently, much differently. I often think of that Bible story where God sends the prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel, and he goes to the home of Jesse and his sons to seek the Lord’s Anointed One. They examine each son, from Eli’ab to Abin’adab and Shammah and four others – all of them seem likely candidates for the throne, but apparently not to God.
As God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Finally, the prophet finds the one God has chosen to be king – it’s David, a simple boy who was tending sheep.
I thought about all this while I was taking the train home from work, surrounded by ordinary people. The slovenly man sitting next to me was snoring. He needed a bath, he had bad breath and he probably didn’t even have enough to pay his fare. What’s there to love in human terms? Beats me. But as my mother always told me, “If God loves him, you should, too.”
Nevertheless, I usually have to keep reminding myself that God loves us all, despite bad breath. The woman sitting on my other side did nothing but talk on her phone from the time she sat down, and I wanted to grab it and toss it out the window. But then I thought that God loves her, too, although I wasn’t so sure God loves her phone.
When I walk through a crowded Grand Central Terminal at rush hour, it amazes me to think that Jesus knows every person more intimately than he or she knows, and that he loves each one with an everlasting love. Yes, he loves the ordinary and the extraordinary and everybody in between.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.