I read a survey of youth designed to reveal what they wanted in life – lots of money, they said, fast cars, fame – and It has me remembering the time a 13-year-old I’ll call Jenny came to my house and said it outright:
“I don’t want to be known for any one thing,” she said cheerfully. “I just want to be famous.”
“You know Jenny,” I remember saying back. “You could say that I’m so-called ‘famous’ in every town that runs a picture of me alongside my column in the paper but.. it’s nothing. I mean it doesn’t help. Mostly it just means strangers stare at you and think you don’t have feelings.”
“Listen to this,” I went on: ‘One day an older woman beckoned to me from a group of women she was standing with. ’My friends wanted to know who Terry Marotta was,’ she said. They looked at me. Nobody spoke. ’That’s all,’ she finally added. ‘They just wanted to see what you looked like.’
“So see what I mean? It’s not helpful. And sometimes, it hurts. And seeking it can be a kind of addiction.
Years ago, I went to a wedding where the father of the bride was so famous he had to sit in a chair the whole night wearing an expression that said, “Please. It’s my daughter’s day.” People respected that – until the second or third drink. Then they surrounded him, and his smiled was forced and tired.
“No, don’t wish for fame, Jenny, I ended by saying. “The Queen of England has fame and who are her close friends do you think? The serving woman who helps dress her? The serving man who brings her her breakfast tray?”
The survey also cited the famous people the kids said they wanted to be like: Entertainment figures and athletes to a one. There were no political or spiritual leaders on the list. No humanitarians. No inventors.
But the kids aren’t to blame here. If they worship money it’s because we worship it. If they crave gadgets and fast cars it’s because we do too. If they covet fame and the big life is may be because they think it can protect them from a rising sense that the small life is not enough.
One day, I was driving with a 15-year-old I I’ll call James, who needed a ride to a place where he could take some standardized tests, because he wondered if he should go to a new school.
He had had a bad year, and was at a loss. Three months before, a fire destroyed his home. His mother was severely burned. His little stepsister perished, as did the younger brother, who he had always said was his best friend in this world.
But on this day we didn’t speak of that. We spoke instead of the survey, for he had seen it too, and it bothered him.
“Entertainers,” he said.
“Fame,” I said.
“Money,” he said. “Cars.”
“Is that what we’re here for?” I asked rhetorically.
He paused. He looked out the car window.
“I always thought we were here to serve God.”
No, fame and money don’t help – and they appear to have done very little to ease the troubled young heart of a Lindsay Lohan, say, or a Justin Bieber, who is running widely afoul of the law right now.
Let’s hope more of us can learn to be like James, who gave me permission to tell his story here; and who, in trying hard to do well and find his path is surely serving God.