Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
                                ~Naomi Shihab Nye

I am a South Dakota boy. In my college days I harbored a brief but real ambition to become governor of South Dakota. My reasoning was, “It’s a small state; what could be so hard?” (I was the losing gubernatorial candidate at Boys’ State in 1965 -- a pretty good predictor of my chances.) It gradually dawned on me that I was really out for the fame -- the responsibility of actually governing the state not being my chief motivation -- and I let the ambition slide. (I understand the reasoning of theologian E. Stanley Jones, who, when informed that he had been nominated for bishop, replied, “I’d love to be elected but I don’t want the job.”)

If I had been asked as a young man if I would be willing to accept fame at the cost of not being able to go anywhere on my own, or where I would not be known, I would have said, “Bring it on,” without hesitation. Now, I’m not so sure. The few times I’ve run into the truly famous, I’ve been hampered by the same truth that hampers them: The realization that there is nothing -- nothing -- I can say that they haven’t heard a hundred times before; so I say nothing. (Except to Ian Tyson, to whom I said, “Thanks, Ian.” He raised his coffee cup to me. Class!)

Years ago, on a family road trip, we stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. As we trudged up toward Last Stand Hill, there was Dick Cavett looming over us, seated on a large horse. He was filming a PBS special on new findings at the Battlefield.  I raised my camera, clicked, and said, “Do you mind, Mr. Cavett?” To which he replied (sneeringly, I swear), “I guess there’s nothing I can do about it now.” My disgust was divided equally between Cavett, for the supercilious remark, and myself, for the toadying way I approached him. (Still, I like his New York Times blog. All is forgiven, Dick.)

As the years have passed by, I have only once or twice considered wistfully the life in the governor’s mansion that was not to be mine, and I have concluded that being a pastor in a mid-size city provides fame enough for me: When I go to the grocery store I always run into someone I know -- but I don’t know everyone. And, at the risk of sounding corny, I’m famous to my grandson -- I can’t imagine a greater accolade.


Caryl said...

I remember once during your seminary days you announced you were thinking about law school, probably to boost your chances for fame as South Dakota's governor. Thanks for not going down that path! Also, to add to your list of rubbing elbows with the famous...John Denver played your guitar AND liked my "pantsuit"!

Anna said...

I have to admit that the few times that I've met "famous people," usually authors, I leave thinking I'm sure they get the same comments all the time. You'd think that after a while they'd just put on the blinders and just coast through the questions, but I think it's a real disservice to the people that respect and look up to them to not be engaged in what's going on around them. Especially as this continues their self-promotion. Do I agree that famous people should be hunted down for their picture or that their privacy should be invaded? No, but I think some expectations should be made for what they give the public. Also there's always the off chance that you do have an original response for them. Ahh Lane Smith, my best friend...