In life, I think most of us understand that we often are cogs in wheels, small parts of much bigger processes going on. I would hope that is not a thought that bothers or disturbs us. However much we may be the centers of our own universes, we are aware that in the eyes of others we are often means to an end and often objects rather than subjects, or little boxes in schemes of processes. It is my personal belief that we do violence to others when we view others that way, but at the same time we have limited influence in how others view us, and can only set a good example ourselves in making sure we are able to view ourselves and others as beings with our own hopes and dreams and thoughts and perspectives, no matter what role they may have in our own lives and in our own actions.
For the last few days I have been working with a friend of mine in my local congregation concerning a puppet skit that she was asked to do to provide a little bit of entertainment during our congregation’s upcoming 80th anniversary celebration. This particular person is often asked to perform on very short notice for particular events, be they memorials for brethren (or their relatives) who have recently died, or special music for traditional ceremonies like the blessing of the little children, and it is little surprise that she was asked on very short notice of only about two weeks to set up a short skit with one of her puppets. As is also common, I ended up being asked by her to help discuss the skit and how it could be changed, and also help with casting. It was not surprising to me that I was asked to help out with performing the skit, there being only just a bit more than a week before the celebration, although I happen to think that in the skit that the puppeteer chose there is more than a little bit of irony in having me be the voice of avoiding showiness and pushiness in exhibiting one’s God-given gifts. Be that as it may, I agreed to help her out.
I often have cause to ponder what it is that gives people particular frequent roles when it comes to ceremonies. When someone is scheduled for song-leading and either needs someone who will reliably give a closing prayer at services or cannot be at services and needs someone to pitch hit for him, I find myself frequently called upon to do those tasks. When someone is looking for a suitable introduction for a piece of special music, it is no surprise when I am asked to write out something that will put the piece in its proper historical and scriptural context. Like my friend’s choice for being a last-minute skilled performer for various occasions, this is something I can easily understand. When our gifts are well-understood, it can be expected that those who possess institutional authority and some level of responsibility for putting on a show but do not have a great deal of time, that those people will ask those whom they know can do a very good job with very little notice, and will go to those people over and over again in lieu of planning more or seeking to figure out who else would do it, if anyone would. People are creatures of habit, and everyone gets some benefit from there being a reliable set of people who can be trusted because of that reliability. More on this anon.
But it is not only performers who find this sort of frequent need to perform well on short notice, who have conspicuous enough talent to overcome a lack of time to prepare as well or as long as one would wish. We see the same phenomenon when it comes to people who are to cook–we all know people who can prepare an impressive amount of food for events, and who are called upon regularly to do the artwork or some other sort of work in designing floral arrangements and who can be trusted to do well in such tasks on short notice. We know people who can be asked to speak and are put on the spot by doing such things nearly extemporaneously, and when people know what we are capable of, their knowledge of that is useful in serving to extract themselves from the difficulties that result from poor planning and the unreliability of one’s first choice for various tasks. When we know that people can work well under pressure, such pressure is sure to follow as sure as night follows day. Those who can take the heat and respond with aplomb do, for the greater good.
Do we show these people appreciation? Do we take them for granted? In many ways, everyone takes some benefit when there are people who can do well with little time to prepare for various tasks that need to be done, whether they are showy and glamorous or whether they are the little touches that improve life but which we may not always pay attention to when planning an event. The people who are responsible for planning such events know that in case of disaster or difficulty that there will be some people who can stand in the breach and make sure the show goes on. Those people who can do such tasks, even if they are stressful, have an honored place that comes from being recognized as important elements of a given community, and those people who lack the ability or interest in serving that role for themselves can appreciate not being drafted or enlisted to do something that they are unwilling or unable to do themselves, and they get to enjoy whatever show is put on. On this day of thanks, though, it is worthwhile to pay attention to the cogs in the wheel that make life easier for us all, to appreciate what is so often merely treated with a sigh of relief or a resolution to do one’s best under the weight of pressure.