FAITH COMMENTARY

Happy nobodies

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Thomas Edison. Marie Curie. Steve Jobs. Leonardo Da Vinci. Even for those of us who mostly slept through science class, we recognize these people as some of the greatest inventors of the last several centuries. But what about Martin Cooper? Ida Forbes? Mary Anderson? John Gorrie? If you can’t quite pull those latter names from your mental contact list, don’t worry too much, but be grateful for their contributions. 

Cooper invented the modern cell phone. Ida Forbes patented the electric hot water heater. Anderson gave us the windshield wiper. And Dr. Gorrie invented mechanical cooling out of necessity: The ice he used to cool his malaria patients was melting before it made to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

These individuals — and countless more — worked in obscurity and are largely forgotten to history. They were “nobodies,” content to do their work and live their lives without applause. That’s a hard fact to accept in contemporary society. “All publicity is good publicity, so long as they spell your name right,” is the mantra of the day, with everybody trying to be somebody — anybody but a nobody. 

Yet, the majority of us will lead ordinary, common, typical lives. And no matter how many “likes,” “shares,” or “follows” we get on social media, history will not remember us for long. Sure, we want to do what lasts, to be a part of something meaningful. But few of us will turn out to be the next George Washington, Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, or Elvis. 

We will live our lives, do our work, and leave behind our obituaries. We will be recalled with great affection for a few years afterwards, and with some luck maybe even a few decades, then we will fade away. 

I know this sounds anti-motivational. I’m suppose to say things like, “Go for it… Make your mark on the world… Reach for the stars!” It’s true. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” the Jewish Scriptures admonish us. But do it as uniquely you. Do it within the blessed peace of a small, humble, charitable life. Be happy as a “nobody.”

And let there be no mistake: The nobody is indeed, happy. Because the nobody has no angle to work or axe to grind. The nobody hasn’t the need for fame, payback, or recognition. The nobody doesn’t have to see his or her name in lights. The nobody isn’t chasing after the cheer of the crowd or the fickle compliments of others. The nobody is liberated, disentangled, free to experience whatever life brings, free to be whatever he or she and God can work out together.

The universe has all the stars it needs, and while beautiful, they aren’t that exceptional (the night sky is full of them). The real rarity is that person who has found his or her quiet, fulfilling, serene life to live — a happy nobody — with no need for a book tour, press agent, or marketing firm to tell everyone how happy they are.

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