This First and Last Thing

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

  • Matthew 19:28-30

I have not heard the “white privilege” epithet in some time, but from the moment that I heard the phrase, I wondered, ‘Is there any privilege in working long hours and making less money at the end of the day than many people without a master’s degree in engineering?’  I wonder.  I often heard from my boss that I could not be promoted due to other ethnic groups being behind the Caucasians in promotions.  They used that excuse, but still managed to promote an occasional fair-haired person.  Why promote me?  I was the guy doing the work without getting promoted.  My parents had no idea what they were saying when they said, “Work hard and it will pay off in the end.”

But I guess my earliest exposure to the ‘privilege’ that I had was when I first arrived in Germany as a First Lieutenant.  All my mail was routed to the military company where I was assigned.  When I had orders to report to Germany, my battalion and company was all that I knew.  We arrived and immediately moved into an apartment, but then we learned that mail was always placed on a slow boat.  It might take a month or longer to receive a normal post.  Even airmail took a couple of weeks.  And sometimes, the mail never arrived.  If the slow boat was about to capsize in rough seas, they might release a shipping container or two for the boat to survive.  So, Grandma’s Christmas cookies might end up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

I still have some engineering textbooks and references that I never wanted to purchase.  I was a member of a book club about the time when they changed the law regarding book clubs, record clubs, and the like.  In the old days, if you did not send the “I do not want it” notice into the club, they sent you the “book of the month” and you had to pay.  Now, book clubs must wait until you send an “I want the book” notice to them.  For those first months in Germany, I would receive the book before I ever got the notice to mail back my “I want” slip or my “I do not want” slip.  A couple of my credit cards cancelled my account for being delinquent because it would take 2-3 months to receive the bill and then for them to receive the payment.  Only one credit card, which I still have, understood the situation, never charging interest or late payment fees.  I think they saw the “APO” on the address and went to an alternate set of rules.

That description is provided to explain that it took a few months before we got our address changed from the military unit to our apartment.  The company commander thought that since I was stuck after the workday was over, waiting on my mail, I might as well become the company “postal officer.”  My duties were to supervise the Spec. 4 clerk who opened the mail pouches in my presence and then sorted the mail.  I was there to certify that he did not open anyone’s mail and take cash or cookies – or set aside the sergeant’s girlie magazine for a few weeks – you know, by accident.  Once the mail was properly sorted, I signed off on a job well done and then left the mailroom.

The first time I performed these duties, I stepped out of the mailroom to find every sergeant first class standing at the door, smiling, with their men lined up behind them.  Seeing me meant their waiting was over.  The earth-moving platoon sergeant said, “Rank has its privileges, Sir.”  The other sergeants snickered.  Then he said in a deep gravelly voice, “Back o’ the line!”  There were over 150 soldiers in the company, awaiting their mail.  Everyone laughed at me as I passed.  I outranked them all.  The other officers had been in Germany long enough to have their mail redirected to their apartments.  The other officers had already eaten their evening meal and were watching television with their feet propped up.  I was the brunt of everyone’s joke.

When I got to the mailroom window, even the mail clerk was laughing.  I asked him what was so funny.  He said, “Sir, you and I start our day along with everyone else at the same time, but seeing you get your mail, it means I am finally off duty.”  Of course, he had told me before we started that if I left the mailroom with my mail under my arm, it would violate the regulations, and he might get beaten up by the sergeants by doing me a favor.  Okay, what he said was, “They’d kill me, Sir!  You wouldn’t want that!  Would you?!”

I could not wait for my magazines, credit card bills, and personal mail to have my new address.  But that took a few months.  The only “privilege” that I had over the 150+ other guys was that I knew when I was not going to get mail that day.  So, when I ensured the mailroom was open for business, I didn’t have to wait.  I avoided the laughs by not even going to the back of the line.

For my entire career, that experience in the mailroom became the definition of ‘privilege’ for me.  When it is the other guy, “He who is first is first.”  When it has been me, everyone seemed to be well aware of the Scripture above and the fact that I was a Christian.  I then proceeded to the back of nearly every line, for almost every event, all my life.

But I know something that all those laughing hyenas who stood in line as I made my way to the end of the line did not know.  God backs up His promises, and someday, I will be first, no waiting, welcome home.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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