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Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Even Comedians Cry

June 04, 2009

Eighteenth Century British physician Dr. John Abernathy was visited by a patient complaining of depression. After an examination the doctor pronounced, "You need amusement. Go and hear the comedian Grimaldi; he will make you laugh and that will be better for you than any drugs". Said the patient, "I am Grimaldi".

Comedians are sometimes sad, comforters need comforting, and even the most optimistic get depressed sometimes. After her death, we learned that even Mother Teresa had some serious doubts and nagging depression.
There is a recurring theme in bumper stickers these days in which different professional groups proclaim they need love, i.e., "School Teachers Need Love, Too", "Truck Drivers Need Love, Too", etc. Even comedians cry sometimes.
We tend to think that certain professional groups are immune to the ills and troubles that are common to those of us who are just regular vanilla human beings. Most people have a difficult time envisioning their doctors being sick, their psychiatrist depressed, and a school teacher not knowing something or their pastor having doubts. This comes (at least in part) from our habit of defining personhood by vocation. When we say: "Hello, Reverend", Good morning, doctor", "How are you, judge?", "Goodbye, commissioner", Greetings, counselor", or Goodnight, professor", we tend to miss the personhood of the individual. In being too conscious of the titles people carry, we can ignore the delicate and unique personhood of the individuals behind the titles.
Some of us may have a need to think that our ‘professional idols’ are immune to the ills that are common to all, thinking that if they are not perfect they will lose their power to help us. Whether perfection would improve the quality of the labors of those we look up to, I am not sure, but that they are not perfect, I am sure. We sometimes wish we were. Sometimes we try to be. God forgive us, we occasionally pretend to be. But the truth remains: comedians sometimes cry, even doctors get sick, and clergy have doubts occasionally.
Tomorrow, when you meet and greet your favorite professional idol, the one you hold in highest esteem, and the one you suspect may walk on water in his/her spare time, let your greeting penetrate the title. There is probably a real live human being back there who needs some understanding, kindness and warmth.

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