I felt small today. Twice. The Tall Man called to tell me that he had the “perfect score” which he knew I would not be able to pass up. As I began the phone conversation, the Lovely Lady heard me call him by name and she was immediately shaking her head and mouthing the word, “Don’t.” I’m a sucker…an all-day one, it seems. The Tall Man has been to visit me many times over the years; Every time he has the “perfect score”, it seems. The only problem is that the man has a penchant for the cheap; for the bottom of the heap. No. That’s not absolutely true. He loves nice things, but brings me the bottom of the heap things in anticipation that I will not recognize them for what they are. He has visions of me opening the doors to my top merchandise and bidding him take anything he wants in trade for what he already owns. It is not a likely scenario.
I suppose, I am the worst type of enabler. I always believe that people can change. I am always living in hopes that this time, their word is trustworthy; this time, they’ll come through. So, when the Tall Man calls with news of a wonderful drum set, in “amazing condition”, which he wants to trade for “just one guitar”, I tell him I will take a look at it. The address is given and found and he meets me at the door. Once again, I am dwarfed by the physical size of the man; my hand is engulfed in his as he thrusts it at me to shake. I am led to a bedroom, in which the “drum set” resides. The disappointment is immediate, as he shows me a broken cymbal while apologizing, “I don’t want to mislead you. This one isn’t any good.” The other cymbals aren’t broken, but they’re no good either. The top-brand set he promised is a Frankenstein’s creation, if ever there was one. Only two of the five drums started out life together; mounts have been moved to avoid broken shells, and the “snare drum” is actually a timbale, intended for Latin-style music. In short, this “perfect score” is a complete strike-out, with no value to me whatsoever. As I patiently explain the reasons I cannot use the monstrosity, the Tall Man shifts uneasily before me. He already knows every defect, every shortcoming. He has put together this set from spare parts in the false hope that I will be ignorant of their lack of authenticity and offer him the valuable instrument he covets anyway. My hopes for truthfulness and honesty in a man I know to be untruthful and manipulative are once more dashed. I firmly demur, passing on the “perfect score” and head back for the music store.
As I drive, I turn on a radio news program to take my mind off the dismal failure my trip has been. The reporter is discussing a well-known legal case which will be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States next week and is spotlighting one of the attorneys who will present the evidence for one side. He casually mentions the man’s age and I realize, with a jolt, that the attorney is exactly the same age as I am. This man–my peer–will be arguing what is possibly one of the most important cases to come before the Supreme Court in my lifetime! Here I am, standing in bedrooms, explaining the demerits of drums to a man who will never tell me the truth, and this man is standing before some of the most powerful people in the nation, explaining the demerits of his opponent’s case. The sense of disproportion is staggering! Again, I feel small.
I’m not sure that the juxtaposition of these two events is an accident. Sometimes, I believe that the sequence in which our lives unfold is part of the learning process. I haven’t always connected the dots. I still miss much of the topography, but this dichotomy is not lost on me today. My mind jumps, as I write now, to the parable of the gifts that Jesus told to his disciples. He told of a wealthy man who gave varying sums of gold to his servants and asked them to use it wisely. Hearing the story as a child, my sense of fair-play, always overdeveloped, demanded to know why some got more than others. I have come to realize that the significance is not the size of the gift, but it is in what is done with the gift. That said, I still find myself time and again, focusing on the original gift. I did that again today, as I coveted the gift of mighty influence, which the attorney in the news story has.
Tolkien tells us that even a slow person can see through a brick wall, given time. I stared at the brick wall in front of me today and I think that I am beginning to realize the truth. I am not responsible to do more than what I have been gifted to do. What is required of me is to work with the material I have in front of me. I’m not a famous lawyer; I’m not the President of the United States; I’m not even the Mayor of my town. That doesn’t make me a small man. It means that I have been given different gifts. My physical size has nothing to do with it, either. The Tall Man, sadly, has chosen to exercise his gifts in a selfish way that tears down everyone with whom he interacts. He’s put me in that frustrating position many times. I want to employ my gifts so that lives are improved, so that the world I leave behind is a little better for my having walked through it. There are days when I succeed in that goal. And, a few when I don’t.
Do you need a little encouragement today? Here it is: You are uniquely gifted to fill your place in this world! How you use that gifting is up to you. One of the characters in the parable I mentioned earlier hid his gift, thinking he was guaranteeing success. He (and the world) lost because of his inaction and disengagement. The gift you carry isn’t for you and you didn’t earn it, but it must be used to benefit those around you. And, I’m not suggesting that you exercise a haughty pride as you walk, but you can walk tall as you follow the path marked out for you. The gifts given to all of us actually obligate us and give us a task to fulfill. No one is better than anyone else as they succeed in that function. The gift isn’t the goal; its usefulness is.
It’s a little gratifying to realize that our tasks in this life are neither more nor less important than are those that are carried out by people in the public eye. There is no comparison to be made between us, except for this: Did we use what we have in our hands to the end of our strength? If not, will we make a new attempt tomorrow? And the next day? I love the idea of new beginnings and new chances daily. I think that’s the reason that Grace draws us so. The past is erased; the future awaits, clean and inviting.
Morning approaches again. I’m gratified that I don’t have to face it as a small man. I’m no Paul Bunyan either, but I think I’ll settle for just plain Paul, working at walking tall. There’s room here on the road for more than just one to walk. You coming along?
“Now, it is required in a steward, that he be faithful.”
(I Corinthians 4:2)
“One must know, not just how to accept a gift, but with what grace to share it.”
(Maya Angelou~American poet)