by Katie Rich
One of my favorite authors, Markus Zusak, has a book called I am the Messenger. The premise of the book is that the main character, nineteen-year-old Ed Kennedy, is practically blackmailed into doing good deeds for a bunch of strangers, from stringing up Christmas lights for a poor family to restoring an old pastor’s faith in humanity by rekindling a dwindled congregation’s faith in God. After he helps a teenage girl at a track meet, she asks who he is, that he would do something so kind for a stranger. Ed pauses, and replies, “I’m just another stupid human.”
This line has always rubbed me the wrong way. It’s the kind of line that is clearly meant to be profound, and in a way, it is, since it has stuck with me for years after first reading it. I liked Ed. He was a good guy and did good things. He’s the kind of run-of-the-mill, underdog character that you naturally root for as the novel progresses. But his cynicism irked me. Why doesn’t he give himself more credit?
Being abroad humbled me in a way I hadn’t been before. After months of being the stupid American who couldn’t speak the language in whichever country I happened to be in, didn’t understand the proper etiquette for different cultural situations, or handed over the equivalent of three dollars instead of thirty for a hostel because the currency confused me, I started to feel like Ed Kennedy. When I missed a flight and ended up stranded in Latvia for a night, and I realized that no excuse sounded like a good one for the very frustrated airport gate attendant, I wanted to shrug apologetically, show her my now void boarding pass, and say, “I’m just another stupid human.”
Yet every day we see fantastic examples of just how far one small act of human goodness can go. A reassuring word and a cup of hot coffee from a passing stranger can make a homeless man realize that he has the strength to make it through the night, no matter how cold Boston decides to be. A lunch invitation to an old friend you haven’t seen in a while is sure to bring a smile to her face. Small praise you give to that kid in your history class – whether it be a compliment on his appearance, work, or plain old self – can resonate with him and maybe, if you’re lucky, help him see a side of himself he couldn’t before.
So how can you be both the stupid human stuck in Latvia and the girl who brings a smile to a stranger’s face? It’s simple, really. You have to accept that it isn’t you at all making that stranger smile. You can take credit for your errors, certainly, as I did wandering around Riga wondering what language they spoke or money they spent. But the joy you give to people isn’t your own, but rather the joy of Christ. It was once explained to me that as part of the Body of Christ, every time we do a good deed, we are acting not as ourselves but as Jesus’ own hands and feet. In this way He does extremely extraordinary things through utterly ordinary people. Alone we are, as Ed Kennedy said, just stupid humans. But with Christ, we have the opportunity to be so much more. We just have to open ourselves up to Him with the greatest humility we can muster. We have to pray the prayer of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of your peace – and accept that alone, we are nothing, but in Christ, we can do anything, so long as we are willing to completely surrender ourselves to Him.