There are no small roles, only small actors.
– Constantin Stanislawski
In our house, every Saturday night is family movie night. Yesterday, we watched the 2002 version of Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst, introducing the kids to one of my favorite superhero movies. I had totally forgotten that he was in the movie, but about half-an-hour in, as Peter Parker used his new powers to beat up some high school bullies, there he was, in the corner of the screen just behind Mary Jane Watson: the World’s Greatest Extra, Jesse Heiman.
Jesse Heiman has made minuscule appearances in dozens of movies and television shows. He’s been called the “most ubiquitous actor in Hollywood.” Most of his “roles” aren’t even roles, having neither lines or names. He’s essentially playing human scenery. His are small roles, notably only for the sheer number of them. Still, he must enjoy this path he’s chosen, since he’s been following it for more than a decade.
Are there really no small roles? Anyone could do what Heiman did in Spider-Man. If we’re judging the importance of a role – whether in a movie or in life – purely on the amount of attention it receives, or the amount of influence it wields, then we must distinguish between large roles and small ones. Continue reading Could You Be the World’s Greatest Extra?→
To a modern reader, the Bible seems obsessed with names:
The genealogies of Genesis and the Gospels
The book-length census in Numbers – which is then repeated Deuteronomy
Lists of David’s soldiers
Paul’s greetings to Christians in other cities in his letters
This concern with names goes to the very beginning of the Bible: one of the first jobs that God gives Adam is to name all the animals.
Considering this emphasis on names, it’s surprising when the Bible features a person without telling us their name. When we’re told the names of everyone and his brother, the anonymous person jumps out as surprising and notable.
The Girl from Israel
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:1–3)
If you can, imagine yourself in the place of this young girl. Captured by Syrian raiders, now a slave in the house of one of the Syria’s top military leaders, there’s not a single reason why she should be concerned from Naaman’s health. For that matter, no one is asking for her thoughts about Naaman’s leprosy. It’s none of her business.
Further, she’s taking an enormous risk. Naaman is a powerful man. Should the cure not work, or if Naaman takes offense at her presumption, her life would be forfeit. Naaman, however, makes her idea an issue of international diplomacy.
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:4–6)
How does the king of Israel respond?
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Kings 5:7)
First, no one can literally make himself. Even if your parents contributed nothing more than the biological material out of which you were formed, other people were involved in your life from your earliest days. Even if their involvement did more harm than good, it’s still part of who you have become.
Even if the figurative sense, however, I strongly dislike the idea of a “self-made man.” It diminishes the fundamental connections between ourselves and other human beings, especially those which have laid the groundwork for our own achievements. Frederick Douglass, in his lecture “Self-Made Men”, provides a definition of the term:
Self-made men […] are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.
I think this is how most people use the term: a person who owes his success to no one else.
Yet Douglass qualifies the concept of “self-making” by stressing the importance of relationships and the work of past generations:
It must in truth be said though it may not accord well with self-conscious individuality and self-conceit, that no possible native force of character, and no depth or wealth of originality, can lift a man into absolute independence of his fellow-men, and no generation of men can be independent of the preceding generation. (Emphasis added)