Recently I was told I could have been “Somebody” if I had tried. It’s not the first time I’ve heard a comment like that. Family members have been expressing that sentiment for years. This time, though, I had an answer.
I AM somebody, I said with quiet dignity.
Strangely enough, I believe it. Yes, I am currently unemployed, and since the Internet has adversely affected the newspaper business, as well as opened up the world of social media in ways that are foreign to me, my professional career is also in abeyance. But, I do not define my worth as a person by the income I draw or by the money I have collected in a bank.
Not anymore, at least. God, in his infinite wisdom, did not give me great ambition or a strong desire for wealth. Those gifts were given to other members of the human family, though when I was young I attempted time and time again to pursue goals which required those gifts — while simultaneously pursuing goals that used the gifts I have been given. That kind of double life is not a formula for success.
Christ said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25), and bitter experience has shown me that statement’s full truth. Unfortunately, 20/20 hindsight does little more than help us learn; it does not rectify our errors. It can, however, help us grow in compassion toward others, if we allow it to do so. If we can look at ourselves and say, “I did the best I could, but I can see now why that decision was a poor one,” we can look at others whose decisions we question and appreciate that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances of their lives.
My errors have also led me to a deep appreciation of the diversity of the human family. The first book of Genesis reveals God’s passion for diversity. Waters teemed with “an abundance of living creatures” (v. 20), the skies were filled with “all kinds of winged birds” (v.21), and the earth was filled with “all kinds of living creatures” (v.24). And St. Paul writes to the Corinthians about diversity in the Body of Christ: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (I Cor.12:4-7).
However, we do not live in a society that embraces the value of all. We reward some generously for their work while depriving others of the basic necessities of life, justifying the inequities in ways that make sense only to those on the top — and to those who want to climb to the top. As devastating as this is economically, the way this mindset affects our relationships with others is even more devastating.
We have become a society that values only those who are monetarily reimbursed for their efforts — and then, only to the extent that they are reimbursed. But there are gifts which enhance the quality of life for all, gifts which sadly do not generate a stable and generous income: creating and caring for a home, mentoring young people who need support and guidance, creating art and poetry and music, loving unconditionally. These gifts contribute to stronger communities and more beauty in the world, but generally don’t pay a dime.
To live authentically with these gifts, to live without the monetary compensation that will garner the respect of others, individuals need a strong support system, a deep faith with a clear sense of God’s call to use those gifts — or a very thick skin. I know, because those are the gifts God has given me. Yes, if I had been gifted with the desire for wealth and great ambition, I could probably have become “Somebody” because I’m also bright and have a strong work ethic.
But I am not one who can turn my back when God calls. I can only say what she for whom I was named said: “I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). And, as far as I am concerned, that makes me somebody.