Unsung heroes: Three cheers to those who serve behind-the-scenes and out of the spotlight

A long list of famous (and infamous) people have roots in Oak Cliff: Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie and Clyde, George Robert Phillips McFarland (“Spanky” of The Little Rascals), Edie Brickell and Ray Wylie Hubbard, just to name a few. Writers, sports figures, notable doctors and newscasters still call our neighborhood home.

But some of our most valuable neighbors will likely never see their names in lights or walk a red carpet. They are the ones among us who serve — from firefighters and sanitation workers to police officers and those who wait tables at local restaurants. These are the unsung heroes of our community who make our lives better. Rather than seeking the limelight, they show us the meaning of greatness through simple, everyday acts of hard work and kindness.

We often define greatness by material success, fame or achievement in some field. Someone rises to greatness through natural ability or the capacity to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of a goal. Another definition of greatness, however, focuses on service rather than worldly success. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26) Such a person sets aside the desire for accolades and reputation in order to work for the good of one’s neighbors.

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You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace.
Martin Luther King said, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

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So how can we celebrate and encourage the servants among us? Let me offer three simple ways, or three “cheers” to lift up those who serve.

Remember to say “thanks.” Sure, someone may be getting paid for her job, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to say “thank you.” Everyone needs to know that they are valued and appreciated. You can say thanks with words, or you can say thanks with a large tip. You can commend someone to their supervisor as a way of expressing thanks.

Start a conversation. Put down your phone and look someone in the eye and ask how his day is going. Ask about their family, what they enjoy, what they do when they’re not working. If you see someone going the extra mile, say so.

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Serve someone in return. A small act of kindness can be the difference between a bad and a good day. Go out of your way to recognize someone with a baked good a small gift.

I often start the day in a local coffee shop. The coffee is good, but it’s the people who serve that really keep me coming back. I’m greeted with a smile and a genuine word of welcome. The way the servers talk to me conveys that I’m not just someone who hopefully will leave a good tip, but someone of value.

What a blessing it is to glimpse a different kind of greatness.

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  • Peggy Tomlinson van Wunnik

    Amen, brother!