Of course we know that each day carries something special of note as we look back at that same day in history. As I start my day and charge up my trivia batteries, I like to go online and discover what is special about each day. I did so this morning, and found an interesting mix. For instance, on this day in 1888, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was first played at Queen Victoria’s daughter’s wedding. I can’t for the life of me figure out how newly married couples were able to walk out of the sanctuary without it… in 1989, Michael Jordan scored his 10,000 point in five seasons. In 1939, Enrico Fermi was able to split the atom for the first time. And of course, on this date in 1964, The Beatles hit, I Want to Hold Your Hand, reached #1 on the music charts. We should also remember that in 1993, Sears closed its catalog department, and truly ended an era. Of course, there are hundreds of more “special” moments in history, if you are willing to search them out, and not fall asleep from boredom after you read about the cricket player who scored a perfect game – whatever that is.
The Internet world will also happily inform you of famous people having birthdays on this date in history. No matter what day it is, somebody important was born at some point in the past on that day. For instance, even though today is a bit sparse in terms of personalities of note, we find that the Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on this date, as was Etta James, known for her all-time favorite jazz song, “At Last.” Writer Virginia Woolf was also born on this day, although I am glad to have never read any of her material. Finally, for a younger crowd, Alishia Keys, fantastic pianist (note her last name), and singer was also born on this date.
As I was reading through the list, I also found myself nearly shell-shocked with the dozens of “famous” people I have never heard of, most likely because I’m not on Facebook, or follow TikTok or all that stuff. For your information, here is a small smattering of folks that apparently somebody has heard of: Lil Mosey, Calum Hood, Jai Waetford, YNW Green, Naomi Neo, Sanket Mehta, Pooh-Man (can you imagine picking out that name on purpose?), Tiny Texie, Itani and Sher Deng. Like I said, I could nearly fill a page with just names of the “famous people” that somebody or some group somewhere follows or ever pays attention to.
And so we really have to go back and look at the definition of “famous” in order to be honest with lists like this one. Now, granted, just because I have never heard of them doesn’t mean they are unknown to the world. They probably don’t know who I am either. However, here is the dictionary definition of “famous:” Known and recognized by many people. Pretty vague, don’t you think? How many is “many” and what does “known” involve? Another definition is “celebrated, or distinguished.” Ok, that’s a little better, because it implies a standing of some sorts in some area of our culture or world. The word comes from Latin famosus which again means “much talked of…” often, however, it really refers to someone or something that is notorious or of ill-repute. Today, we use the word, “infamous,” which really sounds like someone who is NOT talked about, so that’s curious. The Old English word for famous means “name-known.” Again, of some kind of reputation or celebrity status, most likely.
So in a real sense, “famous” is as famous does. Nearly anyone can be, or become famous, even if they are famously stupid or famously evil. I suppose Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Charles Manson and even Lizzie Borden are all “famous” persons, but I wouldn’t want to hold any of those up in honor or celebrate them.
Then of course, there are those persons who never will become celebrities, or “famous” in any real sense. They are unknown in our world, as they go about their lives with no hint to others of their truly incredible gifts. When I served a local church more than 20 years ago, there was a little (barely 4’10”) old lady named Dolly. Dolly was the kind of person who always came to church if something were going on, and yet was so quiet, you might never know she was present. She was never elected to anything, led anything, or had any real reputation at all, not even for baking great cookies or playing a musical instrument. For all the years I knew her, she took care of her bed-bound husband when she wasn’t at worship or Bible study. I knew her to see her, but one of the great mistakes of my life is that I never really took the time to know her.
It happened that Dolly died, and I was tapped to lead the funeral. I realized how little I indeed did know of her, and so I began to ask her friends to tell me who she was, what they knew about her, how they would describe her. To a person, almost everyone said what I knew – quiet, nice, sweet, gentle, agreeable and such – except they also told me one more thing. One incredibly special and important thing that I never heard about. “Dolly was great at knitting.” “She was fast and fantastic with the knitting needles.” I began to then ask more about the knitting. Folks told me that, well, you know, Dolly and her husband never really had any money, so we would frequently buy and give her skeins of yarn when we went to the fabric store. Apparently it was tons and tons of yarn, of all kinds and colors. Dolly would thank profusely, and then use every bit.
I found out that she only knitted three things: hats, left hand mittens, and right hand mittens. Dolly lived in one of the poorer parts of town, and long ago, as she watched kids from her neighborhood walk to the elementary school just down from her house, she would see them go by with no hats and no coverings for their hands, which made Dolly herself almost freeze to death watching them.
So apparently this tiny woman decided that there was something she could do. She started knitting. For the kids. She knitted probably everyday of the year, and made all sizes of the three things she could knit, just right for kindergartners to 5th graders. Over the years, I found out, most likely every child in every classroom of that poor elementary school got a pair of mittens and matching stocking cap every year, and if they somehow lost or forgot theirs, or it went to some other relative, they would get a replacement pair. All courtesy of Dolly, and her magic knitting needles. When I asked how many she had probably made, the answer was always, “most likely in the thousands…”
But here’s the thing: none of the kids knew, and probably very few of the teacher knew of this knitting woman. Dolly would finish a bagful, and then walk over and drop them off at the school office, most every day. It was her gift to the world, so the children wouldn’t be cold. But she never got her name in the paper, or on the internet, or was awarded a plaque or a certificate. It was never “Dolly Day” or any type of recognition – just ladies piling her up with yarn, and knowing her ministry.
Dolly was not notorious, nor was she anything other than a giver. But I guess in a sense, she was known. She was known by her friends, as she did what no one else did. Maybe not known by the children, but certainly appreciated by them, every time they pulled on mittens.
And she certainly was known by God, and blessed with a gift that she used, and blessed with the knowledge that she was doing with her life what God needed her to do. It wasn’t a burden – it was a joy. I didn’t know her well, but since her death, I have tried to share her story – the story of this now-famous woman – so that others might know what it takes to indeed be known. By her intentional, thoughtful, careful and determined decisions, she changed the lives of hundreds and hundreds of children and families.
I invite you to consider how famous your life might be, by the way you intentionally work to change your world into one like Dolly dreamed of. That’s being truly famous.
Word for the day: emacity. Pronounced ee-MAH-sit-ee. Interesting word. Coming from the Latin at its root emo, which means “I buy.” Normally nothing is wrong with saying “I buy an orange,” or “I buy a shirt,” but emacity, growing out of the next level of the word, emo, is emacitas, which means “a fondness for buying.” So, instead of an orange, I buy a sack of them, or a shirt, I buy two, or perhaps three. That takes us to our English word for today, which implies, when buying oranges, I have the desire to buy 40 pounds worth, or the entire shelf of shirts. Emacity is that “itch” for buying something, or almost anything. It grabs hold of someone, and they can’t say no. Kind of like someone dear to me who, when a sale is announced, can’t stop herself from getting so many good deals and saving so much money doing so that she is nearly broke. Today, we would call the person a shopaholic, but it sounds a bit classier to simply say the person is caught up with emacity. Just don’t talk about my stoneware pottery collection…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.