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On Humility

“I began, slowly and dimly, to realize that humble was the only finally truly honest way to be in this life.” – Brian Doyle, The Final Frontier

“You must trust that you being the best possible you matters somehow. That trying to be an honest and tender parent will echo for centuries through your tribe. That doing your chosen work with creativity and diligence will shiver people far beyond your ken. That being an attentive and generous friend and citizen will prevent a thread or two of the social fabric from unraveling. And you must do all of this with the certain knowledge that you will never get proper credit for it, and in fact the vast majority of things you do right will go utterly unremarked.” – Brian Doyle, The Final Frontier

There are recurring themes in Brian Doyle’s writing; of wonder and humility, of facing hardship and death with dignity and grace, and of striving to do your best in the face of it all.  This frantic, breathless, clickbait world could learn something from reading Doyle. But mostly they’ll read 7 Easy Steps to Millions or watch a TikTok video instead.  Doyle is for thinkers and seekers.  Count me amongst the shivered, Brian.  I’d like to believe I’m a thinker, but that wouldn’t be very humble, would it?  No, more a student I suppose.  So I seek his writing out the way I linger on Mary Oliver poems or ponder Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Humility is the path to happiness in this insane world.  But humility isn’t celebrated, isn’t sexy, and most of all doesn’t drive traffic to your web site or prompt viewers to binge watch your work.  And so there’s a disconnect on how to live and how the world projects how one should live.  I believe most people live in distraction to avoid the naked truth of existence.  They puff themselves up into characters that startle and awe the crowd, and are celebrated for being larger than life by other people seeking distraction.  It all explodes into an orgy of narcissism and ego and greed and hunger for more.  Empathy and humility are shoved aside as signs of weakness by the loud talkers and outraged finger pointers and the UPPER CASE WRITERS who want to be seen as the experts on all such things.

Last night I took a walk in air so thick I could swim in it.  Just me and the bats swirling above, and nobody else lingering in the soupy air.  I noticed more contrails splitting the atmosphere than I’ve seen in some time.  Perhaps things are getting back to normal again, or maybe it’s just planes full of Amazon Prime packages floating across time to the waiting arms of consumers everywhere.  Either way there were more planes than before.  But thankfully more bats swirling in their chaotic dance across the dusky sky.  The silence was broken by the roar of a testosterone-fueled, would be Fast & Furious stunt driver with modified muffler accelerating on the main road to speeds well above safe limits.  I quietly saluted him as he roared past, oblivious to my presence on a side street nearby, but surely celebrating his Right (capital R) to express himself under God and the Constitution he’s never read.  On the face of it he and I don’t have a lot in common, don’t listen to the same music, don’t watch the same movies (I’ve never seen a Vin Diesel car movie) and might not even vote the same way.  But we’re both living at the same point in history, dealing with the realities of a pandemic and economic uncertainty and climate change and political divisiveness, albeit in different ways.  In short we’re roughly the same, just handling things differently.

“I thought
how the sun
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!”
– Mary Oliver, Sunrise

I’ve found people to be the same all over the world, largely generous and caring.  We tend to focus on the outliers and the boisterous instead of the humble and kind.  A reminder that we’re all in this together is helpful now and then.  For all my anger at images of the very small percentage of uninformed, outraged misfits burning masks or some such thing, there’s a vast majority of people handling things with dignity and a healthy dose of humility.  And that gives me hope for the future.  Humanity has made a lot of mistakes in how we handle the environment and each other, but we mostly want to get it right so that those we care about can have a good life too.  Humility is thinking beyond your own needs and ego, of recognizing there’s something bigger than you in this world, and for all the madness of 2020 I see far more reasons for hope than despair.


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