‘Yes, Sam, the highest honour that the King of Dwarfs can bestow.’ Sybil’s eyes glittered. ‘Blackboard Monitor Vimes; one who can erase the writings, somebody who can rub out what is there. That’s you, Sam, and if you were killed the chanceries of the world would be in uproar and, Sam, regrettably they would not be perturbed at the death of a housemaid.’ She held up a hand because he’d opened his mouth and added, ‘I know you would be, Sam, but wonderful girls I am sure they are, I fear that if they were to die a family and, perhaps, a young man would be inconsolable, and the rest of the world would never know. And you, Sam, know that this is true. However, if you were ever murdered, dread the thought and indeed I do every time you go out on duty, not only Ankh-Morpork but the world would hear about it instantly. Wars might start and I suspect that Vetinari’s position might become a little dangerous. You are more important than girls in service. You are more important than anybody else in the Watch. You are mistaking value for worth, I think.’ She gave his worried face a brief kiss. ‘Whatever you think you once were, Sam Vimes, you’ve risen, and you deserved to rise. You know the cream rises to the top!’
‘So does the scum,’ said Vimes automatically, although he immediately regretted it.
-Terry Pratchett, Snuff
There is a distinction between value and worth. Readers see that Sam Vimes has more money and power than any chambermaid, yet Vimes knows that all human beings are equal and that he doesn’t have more value than a servant in his house just because he has five or six titles to his name. He is just worth more to the politicians in his world, because of the leverage his name represents. The amount of ransom money paid for him will be a lot more than what is paid for a gardener or a cook.
To rich people it must seem that the ordinary little people- perhaps because their lives are more rarified, deprived of the oxygen of money and savoir-faire- experience human emotions with less intensity and greater indifference. Since we were concierges, it was a given that death, for us, must be a matter of course, whereas for our privileged neighbours it carried all the weight of injustice and drama. The death of a concierge leaves a slight indentation on everyday life, belongs to a biological certainty that has nothing tragic about it and, for the apartment owners who encountered him every day in the stairs or at the door to our loge, Lucien was a non-entity who was merely returning to a nothingness from which he had never fully emerged, a creature who, because he had lived only half life, with neither luxury nor artifice, must at the moment of his death have felt no more than half a shudder of revolt. The fact that we might be going through hell like any other human being, or that our hearts might be filling with rage as Lucien’s suffering ravaged our lives, or that we might be slowly going to pieces inside, in the torment of fear and horror that death inspires in everyone, did not cross the mind of anyone on these premises.
-Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
A concierge who falls ill and passes away is not noticed by those who live in four thousand sq feet apartments, because he was never worth much anyway. Just a concierge, someone who picks up the carpets and takes them to the dry-cleaners, and someone who signs for parcels. His salary might not be much and to others he is easily replaceable, because there are many other concierges who will take his place for the same salary. But to Madame Michel, her husband was a valuable person.
At church, there are a few constants. Firstly, the elegance of the sermons. Secondly, would be the feeling that God must be watching, and lastly, it is designer bags. I was talking to a friend who is well-versed in the various designer brands and he told me that in church, it is as much a social event as it is to worship God. Especially for long-term goers, it is a place where you know that you can carry something and be seen as slightly better off than the person sitting next to you. When I entered the lift at church last week, there were three ladies apart from me- let’s call them elderly lady, Balenciaga mini, and Chanel jumbo. Those weren’t the only ones I saw when I was at sermon. I thought to myself, why would people carry these things to church? Maybe they use them every day, for work, but in church you are not supposed to cause your brothers or sisters to stumble in their faith, or incite envy. To me it was a division between the haves and have nots, until I looked around and realised that maybe I am the only ‘have not’, because everyone else seems to ‘have’.
I know I haven’t started working yet and anyway the demographic of the church is such because of its location, located in a wealthy district in Singapore. So we met on Sunday and we were eating at a dimsum restaurant, and a friend I met for the first time, she mentioned that she was trying to ask a younger girl (around my age) to church. But the social background of the girl is that she lives on the margins of society. And then another friend asked, what can we do to make her feel more comfortable, after all she is really new. The response was ‘nothing, there’s really nothing we can change about it’.
And the thing is, it is true. Because we can’t make other people stop wearing the brands they wear and stop eating at the places they normally eat at for church lunches, for it is their choice. But the people whom we are trying to bring to church are the sinners, the prostitutes, the ex-convicts, people who feel unwanted and have gone through despair and would really benefit from understanding God’s grace. Not just the rich Pharisees or people who are already comfortable, because the barrier to entry, the feelings of ‘should I go in, will they accept me’ are lower for those people. If I feel so out of place there (and I come from an pretty average family), then how would other people feel?
I can speak the language in church and blend in with my makeup and dress sense and body language, and I can afford to pay for the things suggested so far, but the thing is, I think money is just an afterthought to some of them. They don’t even consider the fact that others might not be able to pay for something like a retreat overseas. They are pretty nice and genuine people. I don’t think they intentionally do what they do- it is just part of their lives, that they can rotate Celines with Chanels and not give it a second thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be nicer if they brought along unlabeled or simpler things.
Actually, wait, that’s the worst part. That it is not intentional. I still think that Christianity is a very valuable religion, but sometimes the acts and words of the Christians around me just don’t jive with the teachings. To me, it just seems like God has blessed them more, way more than the people I saw begging at the night markets in Taiwan, to the point where they are no longer conscious of what they have because they have had it for so long. That layer of social security is there. But aren’t we all equally valuable?
P.S. I start serving in children’s church this Sunday. Eating Burmese food later with an ex-colleague! Wheeee.