On Barack Obama's Pyjamas


If I could have seen at 13 who I am now I would think I was a legend. I remember earlier this year sitting with a first-year youth work student over dinner who was asking me to share experiences, war stories and insights on the past nine years as a youth worker at Zeal. This young guy was a hero and had encountered many things with young people that I haven't in my tenure. It was a real moment of realising that this person I'd set out of become some 12-13 years ago was now a reality, yet all I could think about was how tired I was and how much I wanted to be at home eating dinner. I used to think guys like me were legends, but now I realise that they were really all just passionate people who spend most of their time tired and over-worked, trying to balance the various demands of relationships and tasks as best they can, and trying to understand the ideas of faith in a postmodern world. I've been wondering what Barack Obama thinks about as he puts on his Pyjamas each night? Probably about the hasty unkind word he said to a member of his administration, maybe how he hasn't spent quality time with his daughters in a couple of days, perhaps how half of the US government doesn't believe in him and assumes his motive is to take their country into a socialist dark age.  I wonder if he ever thinks about how he waited most of his life for this opportunity and it has absolutely failed to live up to his grandest ideals? I wonder if he wishes he could just go back to Chicago, be a relatively unknown community organiser, and play basketball with struggling young people at an outdoor court?

I would bet my student loan (and it's sizeable!) that when The President of the United States goes to bed, he is faced with the same insecurities as us all, but with potentially bigger consequences.

As a young person celebrity culture built within me the idea that I needed to become 'somebody'. It fueled in my ego the idea that there would be a big culminating moment where all the potential I had would suddenly be recognised for it's value by the entire world. I see an entire generation around me who believes in this idea: that their 'big moment' will come if they just wait long enough. The problem is that that moment is now and it is fleeting. That moment is getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, catching the number 18 bus, writing that report for your manager, paying your taxes, having conflict with a work-mate, going home, and then doing it all again. When (or should I say 'if') we do arrive at a supreme point of acknowledgment and recognition, all of the above tasks will look exactly the same. All of the fears you have now won't be left in your old job or your early-twenties, they'll be waiting for you right where you left them at the beginning.

Andy Warhol said that "...in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes". He's not wrong really. Many of us will have had a Facebook post that went viral for one evening or some solid recognition for our achievements. But if we live in pursuit of these moments we will find on their arrival that they never satisfied us as much as we thought they would, and that the public recognition never served to heal the personal struggles we all carry as humans. Worst of all, we will realise we were never really present at some of the most significant small moments that transformed our lives and the lives of others. What would Mother Teresa of Kolkata say about this (a stark contrast to Warhol): "Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love." That's a good word for us I think.