01 July 2006

by Gregg Lamm
Written as a going- away gift to my friends at Ogden Church
Sunday, 2 July 2006

I have a friend I’ve never told anyone about. Her name is Estelle and she works in the food court between Gates F4 and F8 in the Northwest Airlines Terminal of the Minneapolis, Minnesota Airport.

Some secrets are kept because of fear, sensibility, or shame – but other secrets are kept because to share them would be to risk making what’s wrapped inside them more real than mysterious, or more likely to disappear than to remain.

During seven months worth of Minneapolis layovers while flying back and forth between Portland and Detroit, I’ve spent time watching and talking with Estelle. And like most things looked into instead of merely looked at, what at first appeared to be simple turned out to be complex. From a corner table I’ve sipped coffee, read and watched over the top of my glasses as folks move around Estelle, trying not to really notice her, leaving her their gifts of garbage and leftovers.

Estelle is around forty years old, stands around five feet tall, and weighs around one hundred pounds. Her glasses are too big for her face, her teeth are as crooked as an Irish lane, and she has just about as much as trouble swallowing as she does talking. These are the simple things I can tell you about Estelle – the things I’ve learned by watching her do what she does … clearing and cleaning tables, and smiling at everyone whether or not they smile back.

But what can I tell you about who Estelle is by talking with her? Well that’s a whole ‘nother story.
  • Estelle has cerebral palsy and has worked between Gates F4 and F8 about eight years.
  • Estelle wishes she could take care of a pet, but settles to pour her love and attention into a windowsill full of plants – all with names.
  • Even though Estelle’s gait is slow, her wit is quick and she’s profoundly committed to keeping the “pun” alive as an American joke-form.
  • Estelle knows she’s “different” than most of the people traveling through her world of concourses and roller-wheeeled-carry-ons. But her joyful confidence reveals that she’s jealous of little and thoughtful about nearly everything.
  • Estelle traveled to New York City last year for vacation and spent most of her time in the NYC Library. She loves the library’s unique tables and lights in this spot she calls “Book Heaven.”
  • Estelle doesn’t look at the work she does between Gates F4 and F8 as a job, but as a sacred opportunity to serve Jesus Christ and be Jesus Christ to the folks He brings across her path. And it’s this daily-chosen heart perspective that transforms Estelle each shift from a name-badged-food-service-worker into a passionate, on-purpose disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now don’t get me wrong – the folks who don’t notice Estelle aren’t the “bad guys”, anymore than I’m the “good guy” for giving her the time of day. It’s human nature to ignore that, which on the surface appears to be invaluable or superfluous, and I’m as guilty as doing this kind of dismissive “bad math” as the next chap.

It’s just so easy to assign “low value” to the people in the “entry-level uniformed jobs” and “high value” to the large-salary-snagging person wearing Prada or a Rolex. But at this stage of life, I want to learn how to stop living according to the rules doled out by “human nature”. I want to invite “nature of Jesus Christ” and the value He puts on people to raise the bar on how I view them. Making assumptions and assigning labels so we can push aside some people while elevating others … these are the actions of the shallow, the impatient, the immature, the ego-driven, and the selfish.

Now mind you, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m done believing Estelle and others like her have none.
  • WATCHING Estelle’s attentiveness to the simplest needs of others reminds me of Jesus and His relentless tenderness.
  • LISTENING to Estelle stutteringly ask “May I take this for you?” while balancing three trays and wiping her chin with her ever-present handkerchief, and remaining upright even though her angle of walking would make you bet it was impossible – this all reminds me of Jesus and His determined, miracle-working ways.
  • SEEING Estelle grin when others glare reminds me of Jesus and His see-to-the-center-of-things compassion.
Over the course of this past year there have been many times when my life has felt kind of akin to Estelle’s. Unnoticed. Unappreciated. Looked over. Taken for granted. Trying to keep my balance on uneven flooring. Tired. But through these many months I’ve also learned to be thankful for the quest God has chosen to take me on. For somehow, along the way I’ve been broken, tempered, humbled, tested, and molded more fully into the character of Jesus Christ than at any other time in my life.

I think heroes are far too easily crowned. When I grow up I want to become more and more like the Jesus I see in The New Testament. Now there’s a hero. But I also want to become more and more like the Jesus I see in my hero and my friend Estelle.

After flying back to Oregon for good on Tuesday, 4 July, I don’t know when I’ll be in the Minneapolis, Minnesota airport again. But when I am, I have a feeling that Estelle will be there … dreaming of packing her own carry-on and heading back to the NYC Library, and still serving others with a kindness that’s true, not manipulative, and smirking to beat-the-band with that crooked little smile of hers. Godspeed.



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