This past Sunday (2/25/07), my family and I (plus The Amazing Zacchini) attended Amazing Grace, the new film from Bristol Bay Productions that tells the story of William Wilberforce and his crusade to abolish slavery in the British Empire. It is an exceptional film that I would highly recommend to everyone, most especially those whose schoolchildren may be studying slavery. But that is not what I wish to speak about here.
It only takes some cursory research to realize that William Wilberforce was an exceptionally gifted human being, in both ability and compassion, with an almost superhuman devotion to community service. He founded or participated in 69 different charitable organizations, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Church Mission Society; he spearheaded the construction of a church in his retirement neighborhood of Mill Hill, using largely his own money; and he was one of the youngest individuals ever to serve in the House of Commons. Interestingly, he did all this while suffering from colitis, a painful intestinal disorder, and while raising six children with his wife, Barbara. Though the son of a wealthy merchant, a Member of Parliament for 45 years, and a highly respected member of society, Wilberforce always found time for those less fortunate, the downtrodden of society. The film even gives us the idea that he regularly fed the poor in the dining room of his estate. I don’t think it would be a stretch, then, to conclude that Wilberforce was anything but elitist in his attitude toward and treatment of his fellowman. He truly understood that God created all men equal and continues to see them that way, regardless of life accomplishments or socioeconomic status.
What struck me this morning as I sat in my family room, cozily sheltered from the newly fallen snow outside my window, was the idea that if one of the many underprivileged, downtrodden individuals that Wilberforce so energetically aided during his lifetime had entered the “arts” theater that hosted Amazing Grace on Sunday, the hue and cry from the receptionist of this “upscale” movie house would have been more than audible. It would have been deafening. Now, I do not perceive myself as a tremendously “earthy,” “working class,” or “vulgar” individual, but even I felt a bit put-off by the greeting I received when I attempted to purchase my theater ticket. As I approached the door of the theater, I saw neither a sign indicating which credit/debit cards were accepted nor did I spy a notice stating, “cash only.” Still unaware of my payment requirements as I approached the ticket counter, I stated, as a question, that I assumed the establishment honored debit cards. “No, we do not take cards. We take cash.” Met with this restriction, I asked the location of a nearby ATM machine. The elitist snarl that graced the countenance of the receptionist was positively appalling, as she relayed (through gritted teeth) the location of the requested cash dispenser. Everyone in my party exited the theater to procure the necessary financial instruments. After a short trip across the street, my husband returned with the cash, purchased our tickets, and we enjoyed the film.
Now, I don’t know why this young woman’s attitude struck me so negatively. Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen such surliness in a long time. Or maybe it was because I felt convicted about the first (and often last) impression that I leave with people. I have often heard it said, usually in reference to embarrassing situations, “Relax. No one here knows you. Don’t worry about what they think. They will never see you again.” The thing is, they may remember you, and you may have made more of an impression than you think. I certainly don’t want to be remembered as I now recall the young lady at the theater ---surly and elitist. I would much rather be remembered as history recalls William Wilberforce --- a tireless servant.
Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.