Except for the Tour de France, I never watch sporting events on TV, but once when my dad was visiting — he who could keep up with a baseball game and a football game and a golf tournament all at once by channel switching — I heard a sports announcer say about the head coach of one of the teams he was covering that he was smart enough to do it well and dumb enough to think it was important. What a snarky comment, I thought; and how mean to say it for millions to hear. But I’ve thought about it a lot. Does it apply to me? Now? Has it ever? Couldn’t you say that about just about everyone that is happy in a job that he or she does well? Maybe it is a blessing to be blind to the cosmic insignificance of what we do from day to day. And there’s always the matter of seeing what we do in perspective – the difference between a stone mason going through the day thinking “I’m hitting a rock with a piece of metal.” instead of “I’m building a cathedral.” I remember a retired Secret Service agent on the protection detail telling me about being on the perimeter circle during a winter night meeting at Camp David. He was ankle deep in the snow, shivering, and close enough to the house to see the candlelight and hear the violins and the laughter and indistinct conversation and the clink of champagne glasses, and he said to himself, “Jack, you’re just a night watchman.” From then on, he said, “No more glamour.” What a shame. Of course we have to earn our daily bread doing something, but we also should reflect on the meaning of our lives and whether our unique gifts and talents are being used as they should be. I interpret some of my own major life changes as the result of gradually or suddenly realizing that I was wasting my life, even risking my life at one time, for something that didn’t matter. I’m thinking about my involvement for about three years as a field agent in the so-called “war on drugs,” a fruitless effort by all the hundreds of agents spending whole careers at it, when no one else really cares. Most of the agents I knew didn’t see beyond the thrill of the chase. It was a game, albeit a potentially deadly one. They too were smart enough to do it well, and dumb enough to think it mattered.
The Book of Common Prayer reflects this in one of the General Thanksgivings, the one on page 836, which includes thanks for tasks that demand our best efforts and for accomplishments that satisfy and delight us. One might also well pray, “Dear God, make me smart enough to do well what I have to do today, dumb enough to think it matters, and if you want me to do something else, please tell me that too.”
Ron Hicks, Verger, St. Alban’s Parish, Washington DC