The buttonhole beside you

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

Or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

But because it never forgot what it could do.

Naomi Shihab Nye


“Never forgot,” these two words lifted from the last stanza of Nye’s poem, Famous. And isn’t this the clarion call of the Gospel, to never forget Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, to live not famously or infamously, not even to be pedestrian or utilitarian, but to fully express God’s gift within us while living out the brevity of life? Every life lived in such a way, however brief, grants to each soul so touched the gift of his “buttonhole,” ever faithful, there, serving in solitary calm. No life so lived is ever famous in the way one dreams nor insignificant because he is anonymous, but because he never forgot. Salvation is content with such a life so given.


Maybe it’s true, I think so sometimes, Scripture raises more questions than answers them. If so, I am given to a life of seeking and searching for them—questions and answers. Part of me, most of me believes this is God’s good intent. Somehow He finds us, and we spend our finding searching Him. “Who is He?” I ask. Sometimes, where is He? Mostly, I ask, what do You want me to do? God, I’m not that smart. Just tell me, please. And sometimes the answers come and then, at times, they do not. But God, I want to know. I haven’t given up wanting and asking, but a respite now and then teaches me to listen, to be patient in the face of all those stones people throw. And though I want to pick them up and throw them back, the times when I forget Him, God somehow calls me back to the “buttonhole” life. With God, there are always reminders.


And shouldn’t we remember, not just Christ on the Cross, but the meaning of it all? To remember the buttonhole life, the one next to us who, content with his unspectacular solitary calm, brings us back to our own. Here we must be mindful there are those who forget, who seek the other famous, the other gods and answers. They live inside the church and outside. They are your neighbor and co-worker. They are next to you, they are you—and me. And when we remember, we can also remind. I think the buttonhole life is such a life, famous in God’s way. This we can do.


A Psalm of David says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he falls, he shall not be cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.”


In other words, the Lord orders the steps of the buttonhole life, and He delights in his buttonholeness. And when the world pays no attention to him, God remembers him.


Don’t forget.


“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV).

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