“Dr. Dale Hull experienced a major life change – not to mention a career change – in 1999. He was a highly successful OB/GYN physician at the time, but a freak trampoline accident suddenly rendered him quadriplegic. With his medical training, he knew at the moment he landed that his life would never be the same again. Not only would he be a different type of husband and father, he would also never be able to deliver another baby.” So begins my friend Jeff, an organizational behavior expert, discussing our ability to transform ourselves and society by using adversity to our advantage in finding our life calling.
I was profoundly moved, however, by another point he made near the close of his article. “Dale shared with me something last night that touched me deeply. Immediately after his injury, he was completely dependent on hospital staffers to meet all of his needs. A host of different nurses and attendants cared for him. However, he found that whenever one of the attendants washed his face – the only part of his body that had any feeling – he could immediately tell by their touch if they were just doing a job or truly giving care.”
So much of the work that we do is unromantic, poorly paid, and often grindingly unrecognized. We know in our heart of hearts that it’s important, but that doesn’t make it any easier to do that work with passion. We tend to be busy, moving impatiently from one activity to another, and we might miss the flinch from someone who recognizes that our heart is elsewhere. Bathing someone is nearly the lowest tier of professional hierarchy in a hospital, a job with little recognition or recompense. It is, however, the job with the greatest level of physical touch, something that, as a sometimes naturopathic practitioner, I believe is almost more healing than anything.
On my printer, covered with post-it notes of ideas or quotes, is the following from Mother Teresa:
“We must not drift away from humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small, we look at things in a small way. But God Almighty sees everything great. Therefore, if you just go and sit and listen, go visit somebody or bring somebody a flower – small things, wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house, very humble work. That is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things, but there are very few who will do the small things.”
It was important to Jesus Christ to touch and heal people. He was aware. He slowed down. He focused on the immediate and personal. He had a great and grand mission, the greatest and grandest of any person to ever live, but he wasn’t consumed by meetings or strategies or visioning. I think there is much in that truth that we miss.
The sweet poem written by Myra Brooks Welch in 1921 that shares the story of the violin – battered, devalued and being sold at auction – is a favorite in 12-step programs. It’s moving to people whose lives have been devalued, who recognize that they could be capable of great things in the hands of someone greater. It inspires faith and hope when we are lost. It narrates the story of all of us at the feet of an important, successful Jesus who will slow down and look at us.
How would the world change if we would slow down and look around? Whose life could use the touch of a master’s hand? And do you notice because you were the one sent to bring faith and hope, a power more transformative than your education or your money, or that could elevate your considerable resources to the miraculous? Who would not want to be miraculous?
Those whose lives and careers are important or successful are often quite distant from the personal touch that would make them truly meaningful. How sad that this slowing down, this making meaning, is often considered the work of women, children, and old men, while young, vital, prodigiously talented men and business-minded women often dismiss the opportunity. Like the story of the violin, everyone is benefited – the person touched, the person who touches, and all those who watch or hear the haunting melody of small things greatly done.
Tell us about where you do your small work. Share the melody! What things do you, or could you do to enliven it by a master’s hand? Are you willing to see yourself as a master-in-training?