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The Very Great Wisdom of Mr. Ellis

by Lucky Garvin

I would not want Mr. Ellis angry with me. He is African-American; perhaps a bit over six feet in height, two hundred forty pounds, shaved head, mustache with chin-beard. A slight arching of his eyebrows, a narrowing of his eyes would make him a fearsome prospect indeed; a man to walk wide of. But those eyes do not narrow nor those eyebrows arch. With him, as with all spiritual individuals, allegorical; more is hidden than is seen.

I much admire Mr. Ellis. He works as a patient transporter in the hospital: he moves patients from the ER to their rooms upstairs. When he comes to our department, he is unfailingly polite; but make no mistake, his voice is strong, his gaze direct. This is courtesy, not subservience. If the patient is too weak to move himself, Mr. Ellis moves him; arms bulge, muscles knot across his chest. He is powerful enough not merely to move a patient, but to move them with tenderness, for the ability to do a thing tenderly always takes an extra strength.

I know nothing of his past, but whatever it was, good or bad, privileged or deprived, it has bought him here, to this place. What we forge of our past always brings us to our present.

He started as a housekeeper, emptying wastebaskets, sweeping floors. I began to see him as agreeably free of pretense and possessing a strong sense of self; not a vanity, but an abiding self-respect; a quiet man who took no pains to be noticed.

 He stayed busy at the task before him, patient, methodical. His attitude seemed to be, `I clean now, that’s what I do. Not forever but for now. So I shall do it well.’ True nobility is often a silent, solitary affair. By staying at his assigned task, he becomes the quiet agent through which  a great need is fulfilled. Surely this is the ultimate self-stewardship.

I see him only for disappointingly brief periods of time. We exchange greetings. He is busy; I am busy. He says he models himself after me. I don’t know to what degree that’s true, nor how wise his selection, but looking to learn from others is always wise.  Mr. Ellis is taking care about his growth, following a spiritual way, I think; walking that dim-lit path not because he must, but because he chose to. We can always refuse the offer.

What holds him to it I wonder, following an urging faint as wind-chimes? Like me, a determination to leave what he once was, the wiser for where he’s been? Too many lessons learned in sorrow? Wisdom so often comes after the fact.  Or simply a rooted determination to do what’s right? I’ve not asked him.

So for now he is a patient-transporter and a soul under construction; each day coming nearer and nearer still to what it was intended he become. He’s a man I much admire for his decency and his self-respect. He nurtures carefully what the Creator has given him. It’s said each of us fashions our own philosophy. Whether we treat patients or transport them, sweep a floor or run a corporation, it makes no difference, the Creator knows where we are.

To follow a far-vision, do the task before you; to be committed to self-respect, steadied and sustained by a healthy pride is to come to maturity. The Creator, I believe, has plans for Mr. Ellis, this man I much admire.

Yesterday, Jim Shore, our hospital administrator, a man who frequently walks the hospital because ‘nothing much spiritual happens in my office.’ He spoke to me: “I was walking through the cafeteria, saw a gentleman I’d never met, a man who worked here, and on an impulse, although my time was brief, I asked if I could eat a quick meal with him. I ended up sitting with him an hour and a half. Fascinating man. I came back to my office and listened to my phone calls. You had called me, Lucky, with a recommendation to look up Mr. Ellis in my travels.

Guess who I had lunch with today?”

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