Yes sir. No sir. Yes, I can help with that sir. No mam. Of course, I can do that mam. Don’t bother with that, Miss, that is why I am here.

Oh, I am sorry. I should have checked the toilet paper. I will be right back with another roll. I will make sure the toilet and face bowl are clean also.

I will have these shoes shined for you before you disembark from the train sir. Yes, of course, I will wake you in time for breakfast. What is that you say? You want it served in your compartment? Yes sir, I can do that, and I will have your suitcases on the platform in time for your departure. Will there be anything else sir? Miss? Okay. I will see you in the morning. Sleep well. And if you should need anything during the night, ring the bell and I will assist you immediately.

This is a sample of the discourse I had with passengers who were traveling in the overnight sleeping cars in which I was assigned to work. It was the way the ‘well-to-do’ traveled on trains before airplanes became so popular. It was decent, honest work for the summer, and it helped pay my way through school and of course, give me some extra spending money.

My job was to make each passenger feel special during their journey from city to city. For trips from New York to Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle, my job was to make people feel at ease.

I did this work in during my summers in college and the first two summers of medical school. Before this I worked in the kitchen as a prep cook and dish washer at restaurants which refused to hire black people as waiters or other out-front staff.

These memories flood my mind as I now sit in places to literally make life and death decisions. How did my early life experiences prepare me to order the appropriate lab studies, x-ray images, make the correct professional consultation and communicate this clearly to the staff and of course, the patients who depend upon me to make unbiased, professional decisions. My job is once again to make people feel at ease.

What did I learn as I shined those shoes, carried the luggage, answer the bell in the middle of the night to bring a cup of milk or a glass of sherry?

Yes sir. Yes mam. I learned to serve. I did not learn to be subservient, self-demeaning, or self-effacing. The Lord was teaching me that I am not the center of attention. Service does not mean I am less. In fact, it means I am more. In order to lead, I must serve. To be less is to be more. To serve is the calling in Christ.

The patients I serve now, want to know they are of value. They want to know that whatever ‘class’ they may have been born into, they are important to me and that I will serve them with professional courtesy and care. Making them feel special in that encounter is what it is all about.

John 13:12-17

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.