The young lady who stood in my doorway wasn’t happy. And, she stank. No. Literally, she stank. Like the sewer. I didn’t invite her in. But she was unwavering in her resolve. She was going to deliver her message, whether on my doorstep or inside my house. Warily, I asked her what I could do for her. In colorful language, she launched into a description of exactly what I could do for her.
Perhaps I should back up a little and set the stage for this conversation. I was standing in the doorway of the big Victorian home in which the Lovely Lady and I raised our children. The house was on a sloping piece of property, with a little “mother-in-law” house directly behind it. That little house was no longer part of our property, but was now a rental property. There were a number of different occupants during our nearly twenty years in the big house. The way our house was built, it stood nearly six feet above the ground, but the little rent house out back was built on a slab, so it sat just above ground level. Shortly before my little discussion with our current neighbor, we had noticed that the drains in our house were running a little slowly. In fact, just that evening, I had used a plunger, commonly called the “plumber’s friend”, to hurry up the toilet.
I will freely admit that I had to struggle to hold back the laughter at first, as she began her tirade. “Have you been having problems with your drains? I don’t know what happened, but I just went into my bathroom and found a stinking mess all over the walls and floor.” She went on in crude language to describe the disaster, although in fairness to her, the word she used the most is actually the word which is most often utilized in such a description. I say that I had to hold back the laughter. The thing is, the picture of me standing in my house wielding the plumber’s helper, just as the space in her bathroom erupted in a flood of the smelly debris she was describing (and wearing), would, in any other situation, have been about as funny a script as you could imagine. It certainly wasn’t funny to her, nor, as my mind grasped the situation, was it to me.
I was in a quandary. I could tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about and send her home to call her landlord. It wasn’t my problem. I could stay in my house up above her level and continue to use my plumbing, allowing it to flow down to hers, even encouraging it along periodically with the plunger. I would be just fine. Let her and her landlord fix the clogged sewer line.
You know, don’t you, that I didn’t do that at all? We did call her landlord, after I had apologized, and we determined a course of action to repair the problem. It cost me a lot of money to replace the sewer line to the street, but it had to be done. True, there was no mess in my house, but mine was the cause of the mess in hers.
I can see those brows wrinkling, as you get to this point and wait for the customary life lesson to begin. “How in the world does he think there’s a lesson to be learned in this crude story? What’s to be gathered from a stinking mess in the bathroom?” Maybe there is none. Perhaps it’s just a story.
No, you know me better than that. I do have a point to be made. I wonder if you see the significance of the juxtaposition of my house to hers. Do you understand the implication of my big house towering over her little shack, down there on the ground? Surely, my four bedroom, two bath Victorian house set way up above her little one bedroom, single bath rental entitles me to some privilege. Why, I have no obligation to her at all! If she wants her sewer fixed, let her do it herself!
Do you know the term, “noblesse oblige”? It’s an old French phrase which means, literally, “nobility obliges”. In other words, there is a responsibility which comes with rank, and if you claim nobility, you must conduct yourself nobly. In days past, the term was applied to aristocracy, to the ruling classes, but as time has passed, the meaning has come to be understood that those who are blessed with good things have a responsibility to pass on those blessings. I want you to comprehend clearly that this is not about being told to help, not about being taxed by the government, not even about politics and legislation in the slightest. It is simply an understanding that “to whom much has been given, much is required.” Noblesse oblige is no less than what the Savior Himself asks of His followers in the scriptures. Grace doesn’t exempt us from the responsibility, it actually lays the burden upon us.
I will even go one step further and suggest to you that, whether well-off or needy ourselves, we do not escape the responsibility to aide those who have needs which we can supply. I often hear folks say that they can’t help anyone because they themselves are not wealthy. Nonsense! There is no place in this world where you can’t find someone who is worse off than yourself. Perhaps the scope of our ability to help is different, but the necessity for us to give out of our bounty is unchanged.
I would venture a guess that many who read these words are fabulously wealthy by the standards of most of the world, while some of you may actually struggle to have food on the table and a roof over your head. Regardless, it is incumbent upon us to give to, to work with, to lift up, those who have not been blessed as we have been. Look around you. You see them every day. You may have thought that you paid taxes to help them, that there are programs to aid them in their need, but that doesn’t absolve you of your charge to be generous, to be loving, or to offer cups of cool water.
At the risk of ostracizing others of you, I would suggest that it is time for us to stop griping about a government seemingly bent on turning this into a socialist country and to beat them to the punch. Help the poor. Visit the people in prison. Take care of the widows and orphans. It’s time for us to quit using the excuse of bad government as a reason for not doing what we should already be doing.
Hmmm…that’s a lot of heavy thought to get from a simple sewer repair, isn’t it? Perhaps, it’s because I know my own heart and my own lack of action that I have ridden this particular hobby horse a little hard and long tonight. I’m still learning.
Contrary to what you may have heard, what’s mine isn’t mine. It has only been loaned me for a period of time. One day, I’ll lay it down and go on without it. That time comes to every one of us. While I’m here, I want to invest it the way the Real Owner would want it invested.
It’s time to fix the sewer. And maybe a few other things in the process, as well.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
“With great power, there must also come–Great responsibility!”
(Spiderman #1~Stan Lee~American comic book author)
“…the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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