“Passing for Normal”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

ALS has brought many changes to my life, some anticipated, some not.  Though I have not welcomed my physical deterioration, it has proceeded in the ways I expected.  I did not expect, however, the ways that it has affected others’ perception of me.

Before my diagnosis, I looked like, and indeed was, a fit, healthy man in early middle age.  People look at you differently when they can tell you keep in shape.  I liked that.  In the earliest stages of my disease, my condition still was not obvious.  I could still bike, kickbox, and do pilates, and it showed.

Those days are gone.  These days, my capacity for exercise tops out at stretching and taking walks.  There’s nothing obviously wrong with me when I’m sitting in a chair, but when I try to do anything, the illusion vanishes.

Yesterday, I got my hair cut.  When my name came up, the stylist invited me to her chair.  A few seconds later, she repeated the invitation in case I was delaying because I didn’t know what to do.  She quickly realized that wasn’t my problem.  She watched me as I levered myself up from my seat, shuffled stiffly over to her chair, maneuvered around the footrest, and collapsed into place.

She treated me with great kindness, but as I bantered with her, there was an uneasy edge to her laughter.  She probably thought it was pretty weird that this messed-up dude was cracking jokes.  When I started to get up, she said, “Watch that footrest, hon,” as though I were not already painfully aware of it.

This bothers me, even though I think it’s a dumb thing to be bothered about.  I want to pass for normal, and when I can’t, I don’t enjoy the distance it creates between others and me.

One of the great puzzles of the modern church is the lack of evangelism by its members.  We talk about evangelism all the time, we pray about it constantly, we hold training sessions, but few indeed are the congregations of the Lord’s people that are evangelistically dynamic.

Explanations abound, everything from lack of devotion to fear.  I don’t think any of those are true.  I think Christians want to pass for normal, and they know that if they are vocal about their faith, they won’t be able to pass anymore.

The most successful personal worker I’ve ever known is Westley Pollard, elder of the Dowlen Rd. church in Beaumont.  When Lauren and I still lived there, she once ran into him at Walmart.  He was going up and down the lines at the registers, inviting people to church.  Normal behavior that is not, but in his time, Westley has baptized hundreds if not thousands of people.

I know this is a painful thing to say, but the question before each of us is whether we love God and our neighbor enough to not be normal.  Are we willing to act out, do the socially awkward thing, and have people look at us funny to possibly save a soul?  That sounds like a small price to pay, but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t.  It’s hard!  However, only if we are willing to pay it will we let our light so shine before men.