I recently read an account of John  Philips, Ph.D. , described as a typical hard-driving man, very successful in his field, who at the age of 57 suffered a massive stroke which almost took his life and left him unable to speak.  He describes in detail his struggle to regain control of his bodily functions, then the ability to walk, and ultimately his efforts to regain speech.  What most impressed me was his statement at the end: “I have learned respect for ‘ordinary’  people. I didn’t recognize it at the time and I fought it every inch of the way, but in one blinding instant when I was stricken by stroke, I suddenly joined their ranks.  All of my influence and power, and three-quarters of my earning power,  were instantly drained away. And you know what?  I certainly would not have chosen the route but I kind of like being an ordinary person.  There are more real people here.”

People who are blessed with great beauty, great talent, or great intellect often tend to forget that they are exactly that – blessed.  They are ordinary people who have been gifted, through no merit of their own, with something extraordinary.  (When you think about it, you might actually consider beauty and brains as handicaps rather then blessings in that they may cause temptations to pride and tend one to waste one’s time seeking approval from persons other than God.)  At the other end of the spectrum are ordinary people who have suffered a deficiency,  a woundedness, again through no fault of their own.  Of these we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

We are not responsible for our genetic predispositions or the environment that shapes us.  We all have to play the hand we are dealt.  Most people are a funny mix of strengths and weaknesses.  Some have very visible strengths, others very visible weaknesses.  But, as the saying goes, there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, that it little behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.

It is well nigh impossible to guess where anyone might rank on God’s scorecard.   Some saints have worked miracles, levitated, received the stigmata and have done great works.  Others have been notable only for their ordinariness.  The life of Therese of Lisieux was so unimpressive that another Sister in her convent wondered out loud what they could write about her when she died.  In 1997 she was elevated to the status of Doctor of the Church. Her “little way” of sanctity was enough.

One hears about”self-made” people.  Surely one can work and practice to hone one’s abilities, but the abilities themselves are gifts.  We are not self-made, we had nothing whatever to do with our existence or our aptitudes.  We say that people are “inspired” to write a sonata. sculpt a David, investigate outer space, and so on.  The very meaning of “inspiration” is something that is “breathed in” as from an outer source.  Life itself is a gift.  Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God.  THAT is what makes every human being worthy of love and respect, not the marvelous things he may be capable of doing.

It is a humbling thing to realize the underneath we are like all the rest,  pilgrims on a difficult journey.  “The Colonel’s lady and Molly O’Grady are sisters under the skin.”   All too soon beauty fades, powers wane, and we prepare to leave the world as naked and helpless as we entered it.  Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about “the unaccountable tenderness” he felt for strangers in the street, fellow travelers on spaceship earth, each with unknown and unsuspected trials and loneliness.

However ordinary or extraordinary our lives may seem, when we do what we are called by God to do we not only fulfill ourselves but fill others==with truth, with beauty, with healing, with love, with food, with comfort, with insight–with whatever gift we have been given to give.  Whether we are ordinary or extraordinary in the eyes of the world, what difference does it really make?  In the final analysis, after we have finished our earthly pilgrimage, there will be only one question of importance.  How much, how well, did you love?