Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)
TITLE: Well Done Faithful Servant!
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Looking for not just approval but for such an impossible validation makes for a rather self-centered life. People don’t validate self-centered people very much, except for the unusually beautiful and famous in this world, whose often unhappy and tragic lives don’t testify to the likelihood of this being much of an option for me. However as a youth one has to try!
I tried being a virtuoso pianist until I realized I would never very likely be truly outstanding, even if I had the discipline it would require. I tried painting. Even though I managed to sell a few works I realized with dismay that others saw the expressions on the faces I drew as somewhat soul-less and flat. After all, I saw others only as people who might validate me, not as individual souls each looking for meaning and value in their own life. I tried being the “bad boy” who defied all the social norms, the bad-boy artist who stood out because he couldn’t be put in the box of one social norm or another. Then I realized how pathetic and obvious that was when I noticed that anyone I admired seem to quickly identify the emptiness behind this James Dean wannabe.
I made a lot of money, thinking that would make me a successful person, clearly an outstanding person, but I realized it just made people jealous. The recession took care of any pretentions of that working for me.
I learned how to meditate and I thought perhaps I could stand above my need for approval and the esteem of others. I learned to stand high above my emotions but I still felt small inside when I would come back “down”.
I finally gave up and surrendered my life over to God, who I was told loved me just as I was. It was hard to believe that I could be loved without earning it, without being someone special enough to deserve it.
Finally, God showed me I was special, through a demented old man’s lips. Mr. Ferney was a retired missionary, living in a board-and-care home my wife and I managed. He looked down at me once while I was washing him up in a bathtub, after an intestinal flu caused him to dirty himself. I had lathered him down with soap with some gentleness and care because he was so pathetic and fragile looking, trembling and confused. The thin, transparent skin of the aged, felt cold. He was alone, abandoned by family he could no longer remember, forgotten by the converts he labored for his whole life. He and I were both equally insignificant in the eyes of the world. This was the month before he died. He must have noticed some tenderness on my part through the fog of his dementia.
“You’re a good one,” he said, with utter conviction, a simple statement of fact from the perspective of a demented, dying old man, who wouldn’t remember me in a few minutes, any more than he could remember where his bed was in the middle of the night, as he would often wander into our bedroom to try to get into bed with us.
No credit would ever be ascribed to me, nor would any honor the world ever give have as much meaning to me. A flood of emotions wash over me, even now as I remember his words, as strongly as they overcame me in that old, small bathroom. I was a “good one.” I was outstanding.
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