Reaching Humility

Ego
ambitious, exuberant
striving, contriving, worshipping
self, accomplishment, others, service
honouring, encouraging, inspiring
quiet, selfless
humility

(Remember writing a diamanté in school.  This one took me back to younger days, but I still like the way it evolves.)

Grateful Pause (Paws)

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I’ve been a grumpy lion,
lashing out in pain –
punctured shell smarting
by an objectionable barb.

I am a prideful feline,
with a formidable roar –
an offensive defense,
intended to intimidate.

Even so, you ventured near
and in a single act of good,
disarmed my furious outrage,
calmed this bellowing beast.

Like a mouse, you quietly,
with understated grace,
gestured with such kindness
I withdrew all complaint.

You restored my faith in beauty,
revived a nostalgic sense of bliss,
offered possibilities, sweet and
restorative;  soothed my soul.

And not, I have noted, without
self-sacrifice on your part;
I am not so egocentric
to have missed the cross you bear.

Your gentle demeanour prevailing
over my abhorrent rant,
is a worth a million thank you’s
to a wounded-heart cat, like me.

Humility vs Ego

“How did you do on that calculus exam?”  A tall brunette pulled a chair up to the table, directly across from me.   The cafeteria was bustling with the usual suspects.

I shrugged. “Okay.”  I tried to keep my voice nonchalant.

“Man, that was brutal.  Who needs calculus anyways?” The blonde who joined us was slender, and preppy.  I noted that several boys watched as she approached and then mumbled approvingly amongst themselves.

“I need to study more,” another classmate complained, as she dumped a pile of texts on the table.  “I just don’t seem to be able to grasp the concepts.”

“Yeah, well someone in our class does.  I heard one person scored 100%.”  Our lunch group was growing in numbers.

“No way!  That’s not possible.”  A loud rumble of surprise and disapproval erupted around the table.

I kept quiet.

Then Izzy arrived.  Izzy was one of my closest friends, and also my seat mate in math class.  She knew the truth.

“Congratulations!” she oozed, before I could stop her.  “Another 100%!”

“What?”  The brunette across the table from me blurted.  “You’re the one who got perfect?!  How’s that possible?”

All eyes were on me.

“No offense, or anything, but you’re not all that bright.”  She had always proclaimed to be the smart one, and I can see that this revelation was making her truly uncomfortable.

“Izzy’s joking,”  the blonde proclaimed.  “If you didn’t ace it, then there’s no way she did.”

“Well, she did!” Izzy responded.  “She’s smarter than you think.”

“I don’t get it.”  the brunette questioned.  “If you’re so smart, why do you act so dumb?”

She had a point.  I’d learned to hide my intelligence after years of bullying and beatings.  But why act so dumb?

It was a question I would ponder for years to come.  Not bragging about my accomplishments felt right, but my motivation for doing so was not so admirable.

How do we balance our very human need for acknowledgment with a desire to be humble?

 

The Valley

(This fable follows “The Kingdom” )

After years of being “locked” away in the tower, the Princess came out.  She joined her father, the King, in his celebration of the new advisers in the Kingdom.  She felt inspired by the changes her father was making, and decided it was time she made some too.

So, she moved out of the castle and into the valley.

Because she was royalty, the Princess sent a messenger and servant to prepare the way.  She wanted to live among the common folk, and did not want any special privileges.  She would be sending along her own furnishings, but needed somewhere to live.

The people of the valley were simple folk, who valued their peaceful existence.  Wary of the Princess, but willing to be accommodating, they found her a suitable cottage, surrounded by beautiful and well-tended gardens.  On the day of her arrival, the villagers lined the streets with banners of welcome, and threw petals of roses to honour her.

The Princess was delighted, but reminded the citizens that she had come to live among them, and she expected to be treated as an equal.

It was a difficult transition for all to make.  The villagers tried to pretend she was an ordinary young woman, but the Princess maintained many of her former habits.  She refused to carry her purchases home from the market, and always expected everyone else to step aside when she was walking down the street.  She never learned the art of making an appointment, assuming everyone would be available for her at her whim.  And when the village got together for potlucks, she would command the menu.  The problem escalated when the Princess began to commandeer all the best workers to tend her gardens and do her household chores.  Work around the valley was being neglected in order to keep the Princess happy.

“This has to stop!” proclaimed the people during a meeting of the Valley’s folks.  The Princess was not in attendance.

“We cannot deny the Princess,”  the elders said.  “Her father, do not forget, is our King.”

“But she is destroying the peace!  People can’t get good service,  and businesses have lost their most productive workers, and they’re not even getting paid.  Everyone is upset!  We just want our peace back.”

“Here!  Here!”

“The Princess did say she wanted to be one of us.  Maybe we should invite her to hear our complaints.”

The room went quiet.  Everyone was afraid of upsetting the Princess, and ultimately, her father.

“Well, then.  We shall just have to continue to make her happy, and fulfill her every wish.”

The room erupted in moans and yelling.

“Wait,” came a voice from the back.  “I think I have a solution.”

It was the young woman, Sheboygan, now adviser to the King.  “I will invite the Princess to come live with me.”  Despite her new status, Sheboygan had maintained her home on the edge of the village.

The Princess accepted the invitation wholeheartedly.  Truth was she had not found happiness amongst the common people, and she was becoming disillusioned.

“Leave your belongings,”  Sheboygan advised.  “You will not be needing them where we are going.”

On foot, the two women walked through the village to the foothills of the valley, where they found themselves besides a beautiful lake.  “We will rest here for the night,”  Sheboygan told the Princess.

“What?  Outside?  Without a bed?”

Sheboygan nodded and busied herself with collecting kindling to start a fire.  “Make yourself useful.”

The Princess trailed after her, her gown getting caught on the underbrush, and smudges of dirt appearing on her skirts.  Not used to physical labour, she felt herself becoming winded, as she blew at a piece of hair that had fallen from her normally well-coiffed hair.   Incensed, the Princess was about to complain, when Sheboygan ordered her to build the fire, while she went in search of food.  “Or would you rather I start the fire, and you prepare dinner?” Sheboygan added, which shut the Princess up immediately.

Left alone to her own devices, the Princess was at a complete loss.  Although many fires had been built for her, she never gave any thought to how it was done.  Trying to recall what she had seen she piled the sticks and brush together, but could not imagine how to ignite them.  She looked around for someone to command, and when it hit her she was totally alone, she sunk down into the dirt and cried.  “Look at how useless I am!’

“Looking for something?”  came a deep voice from behind her.

Not turning around, the Princess continued with her rant.  “Yes!  I need to start this fire, but I don’t know how.  Will you do it for me good citizen?”

“I might, but what will you give me in return?”

“Anything,”  the Princess wailed.  Who could be so insolent?  “Just light the fire!”

But her visitor wasn’t so easily persuaded.

“Will you promise to thank me kindly?”

“Yes, yes!”  said the Princess, now fully exasperated.

“Will you promise to be my friend?’

Friend?  The Princess had never had a friend, and the stranger’s offer struck a lonely chord in her.  “I’d love to be your friend,”  she said more softly.

“If you want to be my friend, then you must accept me just as I am, and not try to change me to fit your needs.”

“I will, I will.”

“Look at me then,” commanded the voice.

The Princess turned, and immediately forgot her despair, for in its place she felt a sudden rush of terror.  There before her, in all its frightening glory, stood the dragon.

“Oh my!”

“Oh, yes,”  said the dragon, for he was really a peace-loving dragon and had a good sense of humour.

“But you’re……..”

“A dragon.  And you’re a Princess.  A good match don’t you think.”

“But, but, don’t you…….”

“Eat Princesses?  Maybe once upon a time, but nowadays I’m strictly vegetarian.  About that deal?” He glanced at the pile of wood.

“Oh, yes.”  The Princess stopped to consider her situation.  “Friends, huh?

“Buddies for life!”  The dragon raised his eyebrows in a comical way, and held out one of his talons.  “Shake?”

“I already am.”  The Princess made a joke despite herself, and they both laughed.  She looked at her poor attempt at a fire.  “Can you really ignite that?”

“In the wink of an eye,” said the dragon, and he did.

That night, the Princess, the dragon, and the woman of the lake sat around the campfire, eating nuts and berries and telling stories about their lives before they met one another.  The Princess forgot all about her discomfort, and discovered what she had been missing all along:  camaraderie.

The three slept beneath the stars and when the morning came, the Princess awoke with a new sense of self, and a pain in her back.  “Can’t say that was the best night’s sleep,”  she said, “but the fresh air and excellent company has done me a world of good.”

“Good,”  Sheboygan said, ” Because you’ll be staying awhile.”

“I will?”  The Princess was dubious.  One night of inconvenience she could tolerate, but she was missing her bed.

“You have much to learn about being a commoner.”

“What do you mean?  I live amongst them.”

“You live amongst them, but you continue to be a Princess.  When was the last time you did anything for yourself?”

“Well…..”  try as she might, the Princess couldn’t think of one thing.

“Exactly.  You expect everyone to cater to you the same way they did in the castle.  Servants in the castle wait on you because they are paid to do so;  the people in the village are not.”

The Princess thought this over.  Sheboygan was right.  She had never thought about it this way.  “You mean all those people who do work for me…….”

“Are not getting paid.  Their families are suffering, and so are their employers who need them.”

“Oh my.  How ungrateful they must think I am.”

“And there’s more.”

Sheboygan continued to tell the Princess about the townspeople’s concerns.

“I have led such a sheltered life,”  the Princess realized.  “I have only had to think of myself, and now I see that everything I do affects all the others.  How can I ever redeem myself?”

“Oh, you will.”  Sheboygan reassured her.  “But first you must learn how to be useful.  That is why you will live with the dragon and I until you have earned the right to be one of the common people.”

“Do you really think I can?”  The Princess knew she’d had years of being pampered.  She wasn’t sure she could adapt to anything else.

* * * * *

Days turned into months and the people of the Valley resumed their lives and forgot about the Princess.  Businesses began to prosper, and people went about their lives, harmony restored.

Then one day, a lone figure entered the town.  She was tall and thin, with the complexion of one who spent her days outdoors.  Her long, dark hair flowed down her back, and her eyes shone with a kindness that drew others in.  She stopped to greet the little children that ran to her, and smiled at the adults along the way.  When an old woman stumbled on her path, the young woman took her arm to steady her.  She unburdened a mother whose arms were full, and followed her home.  She seemed to have time for everyone and a willingness to help out.

People were soon talking amongst themselves, wondering where this woman had come from and who she was.  They followed her through the town to the local market, where she stopped at the grocer’s.

“I have no money,”  the young woman explained to the man in charge.  “But I would be grateful if you would let me work in exchange for food.”

The old man nodded, and handed her a broom. The young woman worked until the last customer was gone and all the shops were closed for the night.   Then she bundled up her earnings, and made her way silently through the streets to the little cottage with the well-tended gardens.

The Princess was finally home, and ready to take her place as part of the Valley.

(Image from Pinterest)

Humility

Good, better, best.   Never let them rest.  Till your good is better and your better best.

Dad made us recite this whenever he thought that we were giving less than our best effort.  Like the time I came home with a 96% in OAC Relations and Functions.  If I could get 96, I could get a hundred; I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

The message I heard was that if wasn’t the best, I wasn’t good enough.  I told myself that there was no point in trying, but under it all, I just wanted his approval.  Of course, I couldn’t be the best, so I learned to act like I was better by putting others down.  As a young woman, I was constantly angry and intolerant of stupidity or lack of common sense.  I had no patience for weakness, and though I hate to admit it, I found fault with anyone who I thought was better than me.

Lucky for me, I learned the importance of humility.  Not all at once, but over a progression of events.

The idea of humility was first introduced to me by my Religious Studies teacher, in university.  He said the humble man was the happiest man, because he could just be and appreciate life.  I didn’t quite understand, but the idea intrigued me.

My second child added to the learning.  Baby number one was a calm and very manageable baby: a testimony, I thought, to my excellent parenting skills.  Other people clearly didn’t know how to parent, I told myself when I would see a screaming child.  Then Ester came along, and shattered that illusion, humbling me in the process.

Perhaps the greatest lesson came at the age of thirty-one, when my mind snapped.  A mother of three, I was working full-time to support the family, taking courses at the university to improve my qualifications, caring for my dying sister, and trying to find time to work out and diet so I would be more appealing to my husband.  I thought I could do it all.  I couldn’t it.  The walls of my carefully constructed existence came tumbling down, and I was lost in a black abyss of nothingness, unable to function.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Clawing my way out of the pit of despair, I came upon this quote (author unknown):

I turned to God when my foundation was shaking, only to find that God was shaking my foundation.

“Get off your high horse, and come down to earth where you can be more useful!”  Not God’s words, but my interpretation.

Do you know what I discovered?  Letting go of having to be the best meant I could start to celebrate the successes of others rather than try to bring them down – a much more rewarding use of my energy.

Oh, and I let go of the fear of not being good enough.

In fact, I decided that I am good enough.

No, scratch that.  I am good.

Wait, even that is overstated.

I am!