I distinctly remember a moment a few years ago. I was talking with my mother-in-law about the stuff I was doing at church. (Honestly, I was probably whining about being too busy.) She sympathetically replied, “Well, tell them that they need to find someone else to do this. It’s not your problem if they can’t find someone else.”
It was at that moment that I came to the stunning conclusion that has followed me ever since. I AM “they”.
“They” have a lot of responsibility. “They” should really put a sidewalk on that busy section of road. “They” should get the word out about the local election. “They” should do something about global warming. “They” should change the sign at church to be more welcoming. I mean, if it was really important, “they” would tell us, right? We hear and say the words “They should” every single day. Maybe many times.
And when we’re kids, there are plenty of “them” to make this seem accurate. Classes are taught. Afterschool programs are organized. Special events (from Mother’s Day Tea to graduation) just seem to emerge as the normal order of things, and all we need to do is offer criticism on how “they” could have done it better. But at some point you take your own turn at being “them”. You organize an event (or help organize it). You get appointed to a committee or board (and are thrilled that people take you so seriously!). You have a responsibility at work, where something won’t happen if you don’t make it happen.
Suddenly, all that criticism of “them” takes on a whole new meaning. Don’t people know how hard you worked to make the event happen? The cooking the night before. Buying the decorations. Setting up the tables. Slaving over the serving. Cleaning up afterwards… and all people mention is that “they” should have made more coffee and “they” weren’t very organized with the presentation. Really? Knowing how much work goes into every event, I’m sometimes gobsmacked at how many events there are. It’s amazing! And so often, all that the organizers ask for is for people to come and appreciate the fruit of their hard labors.
I became one of “them” first at church. I was 22 years old when I joined the Board of Deacons. A few years later I was on the Christian Education committee, and co-lead the Youth Group. We set up the Sunday School classes, and organized youth activities. I had a more experienced partner, so the full weight of being “them” didn’t rest on my shoulders. But after Grey was born, when he became a mobile toddler, I just couldn’t lead the youth group anymore. That’s when my mother-in-law told me that “they” would need to figure it out. And that’s when I realized, I was “them”.
And most critically, it’s a great honor and opportunity. You see, my mother-in-law is Catholic. In the Catholic hierarchy, a woman like me might do critical and important work. She might make the important things happen. She might be organizing, communicating, setting up and cleaning up. But as I understand that hierarchy, the “they” who make the critical decisions and hold the final responsibility are the ordained men.
Last week, as everyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows, our town held an election for the Board of Them. I mean, the Board of Selectman. Four people competed for two roles to be the “them” that needs to put together and balance our budget, create a strategic plan for our downtown, preserve our historic locations, ensure sensible planning and comply with state regulations. In exchange for these labors – hours of work every week – we offer $3000 a year and constant complaints about how they do it. (Oh, and the campaign to get the job almost certainly costs more than $3k.) I’m astonished that people are not only willing to do this hard, thankless work of being “them”… they’re willing to compete for the job.
I am more than halfway through my allotted three-score and ten years. I sometimes feel like I’m in the heart of my powers. I have enough experience to know what I’m doing (most of the time) and enough energy and strength to do it. That’s why I’m so busy – I can do the things that need doing. When someone says, “They should”… I sometimes feel that as a personal call now. Because I know that I am “them”.
In what circumstances are you “them”? Why do you choose to do that service? Why do you think other people are willing to be “them”? That time in your life to thank “them” for all that “they” do.