Occasionally, I imagine someone from my former life comes through the line at my register and I’ll feel embarrassed at the thought that they could see me working as a cashier after knowing me as their minister or professor. As a small town pastor, I was held in high regard simply for the position I held. It’s quite a shift to leave that and become virtually unknown and often unseen.
I admit, it nags at me.
However, I’m gradually earning a new kind of quiet respect from people around me.
Some people have known me both in my old life and this new one. My friend Karen points out that not everyone would give up a career and start over like I did. I think she used the word integrity to describe my decision. Her respect means a lot to me because it was never for the position I held but rather for my thoughts and actions.
I also appreciate the respect of children who admire how I make the conveyer belt move to bring their groceries to me. They’re also fascinated with my use of the scanner as I ring up their groceries. And they’re delighted when I give them a helium balloon. To them, I’m an important guy. They wave enthusiastically at me as their parents lead them away.
I’m grateful for the respect of old men. Sometimes, we retired guys “see” each other, and without any words we know that the other once had a fuller life with plenty of responsibilities. Sometimes I see them admiring me as I work, and occasionally one will give me a look of approval because he knows how much it takes to continue working when the body is tired and the mind is full of memories. And we’ll nod to each other respectfully.
Then there’s my young coworker who once said to me, “David, you’re like a father to a lot of us.”
I made a joke about my age, but she remained serious, so I straightened up.
“Thank you,” I said, “I take that as a great compliment.”
It really is a compliment–one that doesn’t come because I have any authority. I’m just an old guy who works with them.
Once I held important positions, but no longer. I don’t lead a church. I don’t teach a college class. I no longer get applause for performing music or giving a speech. I’m just an unknown guy at a cash register. But even now, perhaps in a purer form, I’m given respect by people who are important to me.