a lesson in humanity: on the famous, the broken, the well-endowed, and the simple

One day, about two months ago, I was working, and a gentleman walked in. My co-worker and I greeted and treated him as we would any other customer – with a hello, a how-are-you, and with an answer to any and every question he tossed our way. He was a nice guy if a quiet guy – he didn’t say a whole lot, but he respected us and we respected him. I made him an Americano in an 8oz cup as he perused our shop, looking at all of the retail offerings we had. As soon as I handed him his drink, he said, “let me go ahead and order another one.” My co-worker, who had done the payment portion of the transaction, had gone to the back to wash some dishes, so I was left to do the payment this time around. As he handed me his debit card, I noticed the name at the bottom:

David S Bazan.

I froze for just a second. For those of you who don’t know (because he’s not terribly famous, I suppose) Dave Bazan was the lead singer in a band called Pedro the Lion, and now has a solo project. I said, “Um, so I just realized this, but you’re Dave Bazan.” As we got to talking, he told me he had played a house show on 2nd street the night before. I was freaking out because I’d only recently heard of Dave Bazan via a podcast I listen to.

It struck me as funny the way I responded to him – I had gone from treating him as a nice, normal customer, to suddenly acting nervous and starstruck around him. Suddenly I was saying a bunch of stupid stuff, trying to compensate for the fact that I wasn’t all that familiar with him and his work, but I was as of late. Mr. Bazan was really nice – he tipped us generously and went about his way.

Fast forward a few more weeks and the same thing happens with a bloke named Will Regan. Will Regan, if you don’t know, sings in a band called United Pursuit and has written a few well-known songs, the most notable of which is called Break Every Chain. But instead of geeking out directly, I processed it through my co-worker. I said, “I should talk to him, but what do I say?” Again, I found myself in the conundrum that I’m not especially familiar with his work, but I knew his name, and for some reason, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that he’s sort of a big deal in the Christian music (worship) industry. I talked to him and said a similar thing…”I couldn’t help but notice that your card says you’re Will Regan…you’re the Will Regan!” He laughed shyly and said, “yes I am.” Suddenly I was stupid again, even though five minutes ago, I felt like I had the upper hand in conversation because I was talking to him about different types of coffees and different brewing methods, etc. I told him it was nice to meet him and that I wished him the best for his show (he and the band were on their way to Indianapolis to play a show.)

This has happened on other occasions (though not necessarily in as embarrassing ways.) Over my tenure at my job, I’ve interacted with the band Building 429, Steve Zahn (who lives in Lexington,) most of the members of Emarosa (I didn’t recognize them at the time because I wasn’t as interested in their music,) the mayor, the photographer for UK football, and a few really well-known Instagram personalities/photographers/bloggers.

In a certain sense, I have a good CV going in terms of the people I’ve met, and I think it’s interesting to see how, over time, my response has become more and more mellow.

At first, a famous person was a big deal. Maybe that’s small-town syndrome – when you live in a town of 10,000 people like I did, it’s easy to think that there are a lot of nobodies, so anyone with any sort of name value has a lot of shock value as well. When I was 17 years old, I was nerding out over the fact that Brando, the big guitar player from little-known (aside from to me) band The Sound. The Fury, would talk to me at their shows. I felt so special. And then Garrett said hi. And then Chris said hi.

And then I went to Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore and has Chris from my then-favorite band, as cities burn, sign my shoe. my friend took me to meet The Showdown. And I nerded out every time.

But eventually, I’ve come to realize that people are people. I’ve come to realize that Dave and Will probably would have preferred to have left there without an awkward transaction of “Um…you’re so-and-so!” Because at the core, people are just people (and if anyone thinks they’re more, then the problem is with them, not with you for not acknowledging it!) And even if someone is famous (or should I say well-known?) they still have a personality – they still have flaws, they still have interests, things that make them tick, things they get excited about, and things they get angry about. It’s pretty reductive to think that famous people are only as much as their source of fame.

It’s for that reason that I’m coming to disdain the human idea of fame. I think that fame has the potential to strip people of their humanity, because it seems to me that people weren’t meant to bear the burden of fame. Fame is simply, at its core, idolatry. And humans aren’t capable of bearing that weight. Nobody is. Fame dehumanizes. Fame deteriorates. Fame degrades. Fame erodes. Fame damages.

Is that to say that we aren’t to acknowledge when people are well-known? I’d say no…instead, I’d say that if you know someone or encounter someone who is well-known, the goal should to be to get to know them as a human. If I ever meet, say, Matty from the 1975, I hope I ask him what his favorite beer is instead of the best show he’s ever played. I hope I can ask him about his family instead of his writing process.

I hate to always brag on my job, but I think that’s been a really good avenue for this experience. People are just people…no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve been through, no matter if they’re a homebody or a world traveler, a well-known author or a humble bookworm, a skilled musician or tone-deaf, a politician or a citizen.

And yet, somehow, it’s as C.S Lewis says – you’ve never met a mere mortal. As much as human fame means nothing, the image-stamp of God does. People have dignity and worth because God endows it, since we carry His image.

Human – what a simple, yet amazing thing to be…

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