Heroic Acts by Ordinary People: A Conversation
Thus was the consensus of a planning team from the University of Richmond and IFYC when we collectively realized plans for an on-campus visit from Eboo Patel in April had to be scuttled because of Covid-19. And so, we did. A webinar interview emerged, shaped by a spiritually reflective conversation on the anxiety and hope of the present day, bookended by two intensely personal stories that Eboo shared, each with elegant illustrations adding to the aesthetic.
Since the interview aired, I’ve heard from many people within the Richmond community and beyond offering heart-felt appreciation for the experience. My pastoral instincts suggest the appreciation comes from a sense that someone finally voiced how they’ve been feeling: anxious, overwhelmed, unsure and confused, leavened with a heavy dose of hope and creativity.
As I reflect on the interview with Eboo, I’m left pondering two foundational ideas he shared. The first is that every heroic act is done by an ordinary person. We’re surrounded by ordinary people doing heroic things: healthcare workers and mail carriers, grocery store clerks and home-schooling parents, researchers and janitors, and so many others. None of them, Eboo, reminded us, imagined life would be this way two months ago. And yet all of them, and all of us, now find the extraordinary in the ordinary. My own Protestant tradition claims that a sacrament is when the ordinary material of creation is blessed for grace-filled purposes. These ordinary acts are not only heroic, they are downright sacramental.
And second, I’m left welcoming the power of friendship to carry us through hard times and help us imagine the future. Eboo spoke of friends he has re-connected with in surprising ways. Petty slights forgotten. Light humor and tender-heartedness now renewed. My social media scrolling has taken on a more personal tone, re-connecting me with loved ones I have known over so many decades, a poignant reminder that the love is at the core of our lives and shapes the ethic of our wisdom traditions. Augustine was right. Friendship may yet save us.
We are all ordinary people, bound together by extraordinary relationships. There is nothing new about that. How wonderful of Eboo to remind us, especially now.