In Hollywood, a "cameo" appearance is a famous actor delivering a significant, but one-time line. In my life, that person was Jimmy Whitfill.
Jimmy wasn't a famous actor, but in 1975 he became the first male feature baton twirler at Baylor University. That was the year he also became my roommate.
As roommates, we were as different as the violin is from the trumpet. He was a gracefully athletic musician and I was a tone-deaf klutz. His family hailed from the big city of Dallas and mine were farmers from central Texas.
Worst of all, I was a freshman and Jimmy was a senior who ruled our 13-by-18-foot roost. He spent much of his dorm time twirling his baton, while I cowered on the top bunk writing homesick letters. Our other freshman roomie, Todd Smith, rarely blinked while he read books and puffed his atrocious cigars.
Jimmy was quite good. He could twirl, twist and loop with dizzying nimbleness. But as good as he was, he occasionally missed. When he missed, the baton ricocheted off our plaster wall, often taking a random course toward our heads.
As Todd and I dove for cover, Jimmy retrieved the errant baton, mumbled a faint "sorry," and restarted the acrobatic spinning. The scene had sitcom possibilities, but Todd and I didn't fancy becoming the first male killed by the first male feature baton twirler.
However, between classes, Todd and I often sought the sage advice of our upperclassman roommate. Todd often engaged Jimmy in the late-night riddles of relationships and religion, while I usually brought only one concern for his consideration.
"Should I transfer to California Baptist College to persuade a freshman coed to become my wife?"
Jimmy was reluctant to offer such life advice, but I must have asked it so often that he finally told me what he thought.
"I think you should transfer."
"Really?" I asked hopefully. "Why?"
"I'm not sure you are Baylor material."
Ouch. I felt like his baton hit below the belt.
Was he really calling me substandard? Or was he just wishing for a not-so-homesick roommate who'd be more obliging of his dexterous dances?
Whatever his logic, maybe he was right. My lovelorn longings had dragged my grades into the flunking range. I felt as out of place, undeserving of even my high school diploma.
I know you can probably share a similar story of when someone or some circumstance left you feeling like you weren't capable or that you were undeserving of what you'd been given.
An ancient character named Joseph felt the same way when his brothers sold him into slavery, sibling rivalry gone terribly wrong. Years later, his starving brothers found that Joseph had prospered. They feared he'd take revenge upon them.
That's when Joseph said, "Don't be afraid. ... Don't you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good."
Jimmy's comment left a psychological welt, but I believe God used his cameo in my life to boost my motivation. Determined to prove Jimmy wrong, I doubled my efforts for final exams and narrowly avoided academic probation.
Years later, I saw Jimmy at homecoming and raised my wedding ring hand to prove I'd married Becky, my CBC sweetheart. I then raised my right hand to show my Baylor ring.
"I guess I was Baylor material after all," I said.
Jimmy, ever the model of class, said simply. "Congratulations. I'm glad I was wrong."
Me too, Jimmy. Me too.
Leave messages for Norris Burkes at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notice about comments: