In the Greek Pantheon, there are some names that command attention. After all, they are deities, so it is natural to notice them. I was a lover of Greek Mythology as a child. I sat and read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by the hour. The illustrations were exquisite, and the stories fascinating. I was later to learn that I was not alone in my fondness for these stories, I found that much of our culture references the stories of Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Athena. I found that my knowledge of Icarus, the Minotaur and Hercules was to greatly impact my ability to understand a huge portion of Western literature, and that such literacy gave me the privilege of attaining at least a semi-classical education. I have been able to fake the rest with the help of Looney Tunes Opera parodies and a musical Hamlet on Gilligan’s Island. So now you know the truth…..
In any case, there was always one Olympian that grabbed my attention. Ironically, he was the least attention-seeking of all the gods. He shunned the limelight and craved his workshop. He was homely and easy to ignore. He wasn’t flashy or arrogant. He had a profound humility, but a relentless work ethic. In short, he was the opposite of the beautiful, lounging, lusting gods that inhabited the Greek tales. He was the Greek god of fire and the forge: Hephaestus ( he-FESS-tus). His Roman equivalent was Vulcan. He was the patron of all those that work in the metal crafts, sculpture, crafts and technology. It is safe to say that Hephaestus was always in the background, due to his lack of physical beauty, his handicap (lame in his legs) and the hidden nature of his skill; Blacksmiths labor at their forges in a workshop, not on a stage or a lectern. So, Hephaestus was content to keep the fires burning and creating beautiful and clever metalwork masterpieces.
It is hardly surprising that a CAD guy like me finds common ground with Hephaestus. But there is more to it than that. I see in Hephaestus a quality that is often greatly underestimated. He was an indispensable person, but he was ignored due to his lack of comeliness. I have seen some of these types in action over the years. They are the Janitors, the Mechanics, the Funeral Directors and the Army Mess Cooks. They are the Dishwashers, the Unit Secretaries, the Housekeeping staff and the Plumbers. They are the ones who keep society humming along, yet their work is largely ignored.
We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities. Stardom. The larger than life people. I have a belief that this obsession with celebrities is akin to the obsession that the ancients had with their gods. After all, who is Lady Gaga but Aphrodite in a 21st century wrapper? But I digress. The fact is, our society is greatly enamored with the Stars of Hollywood, Broadway, Music, Politics, Sports and even Religion. We check out their latest loves at the check out stand at Wal Mart. We watch the Entertainment shows. We Google for the latest news of our favorite personalities, and live vicariously through their larger than life deeds. Kind of like the ancients did with their gods…. But again I digress. That is not the point.
The material point is this: our society tends to put a disproportionate value upon fame, and the acclaim of men. Indeed, don’t we all secretly (or even overtly) crave Warhol’s famous 15 minutes of fame? Or longer than 15 minutes? If we are honest, we will admit this. Few are content to live the life of a Hephaestus, hidden from the eyes of men, laboring without applause.
I have seen something, though. I once knew a man. This man was brilliant. This man was ridiculously good-looking, and was never at a loss for feminine admirers. This man rose to a position of great success in his trade at a young age. He had the acclaim of many, if not all who knew him. He had a beautiful wife, and a wonderful family with five children. He had it all.
As he got older, it was apparent that the mid-life crisis hit him. He became disillusioned with his life. The siren song of a younger woman caught his ear. He left his wife and kids and embraced a new life, full of cocktail parties, country club events, and fashionable galas with all the right people. He had the exciting life he always wanted. Cool cars, famous restaurants, fine wine, new woman, and a Fortune 500 Executive career. Just like the Rat Pack! It was exciting, thrilling, and fun. For him and for her.
But I can’t help thinking about his first wife and kids. They were left with the memory of a father and husband they loved who rarely contacted them. The kids watched their beloved mother struggle financially, emotionally, socially and ultimately physically. The price of this man’s “stardom” and the narcissistic preoccupation that accompanies it took their brutally efficient toll, and profoundly affected these six lives for the worse. Such was the cost of one man’s pursuit of ”stardom”. I know all this because this man was my father.
I was a kid who lived in a suburb of Detroit. We lived in a very nice neighborhood, but without a man in the house and little discretionary income, our beautiful home crumbled into disrepair, and we became “that house” on our street. Ours was the house that needed painting, landscaping, and the lawn mowed. The difference between our home and every other home on the street was painfully obvious.
We had two neighbors on our street. They were two Baptist families on either side of us. The fathers were both leaders at Highland Park Baptist Church. They came home every night. They mowed their grass. They waxed their cars. They kept their homes in order. I envied the predictability and “boredom” that these families enjoyed. I will never forget one summer day when the value of these boring men became beautifully evident.
I was attempting to work on our pool. We had an above ground Doughboy pool, and it had a large external filter. I was attempting to open the drum and it burst open and began to flood the yard. I had no idea what to do. I was pretty much panicking, and I had nobody to call, as my father’s number was made unavailable to me. I was in tears, freaking out. I ran over to Mr. McRuer’s house, one of the men I described earlier. He was home (because he was one of those boring, predictable types) and he listened to my pitiful story. He calmly followed me over to my house and assessed the situation. He had the same kind of pool, and within 10 minutes he had resolved the issue. I cannot tell you what comfort, security, relief and gratitude I had that this man was available. He was home when he was supposed to be. He was in his place. He was predictable in his faithfulness and integrity. He didn’t shrink from the mundane call of home and hearth. And because he was willing to be one of those who never receives the acclaims or attention of the world, he quietly changed my life.
I am weeping as I write this, as the sense of gratitude I have toward this man and everyone like him bubbles up in me. Maybe he wanted to be a movie star. Maybe he wanted to be a baseball star. Maybe he wanted everyone to notice him on the stage. But he accepted his humble lot in life and was where he was supposed to be when I had a need.
These words fall far short of what I hope to convey, but this faithfulness in the hidden place, this hammering away in the boiler room where nobody sees, this willingness to appear small and unimportant is of great and lasting worth to me, and will always command my respect.
So, to the hardworking people out there, the Hephaestuses, who get what I am saying, keep on keeping on. The world is always wrong about you. But those of us with eyes to see know your worth.
And Thank You.