Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate

Gray Clothes and Eleanor



     I've been wondering lately: do we ever see humility anymore? If we did, would people like it...or find it corny? Do we even know what it looks like?

     When I was about 8 years old, an interim pastor came to our church to assist our head pastor. He was only there a matter of months, and I really can't remember anything about him. What I do remember vividly is his wife. She was demeure and unassuming, willowy and lovely in a soft way, with long black hair and enormous, luminous dark eyes. Her head was always slightly bowed, as though she was reverencing someone, and she spoke very quietly, never about herself and always about you. When she spoke, her eyes shone.

     I observed all this because my mother liked to talk after church, and Eleanor was her favorite parishioner. As a happy result, I saw and heard what utter selflessness sounded and looked like. Like Eleanor. Eleanor totally lacked the snappy self confidence we admire today. The average U.S. citizen, in fact, would probably conclude she suffered from low self esteem. But I beg to differ. I think Eleanor, in the depths of her beautiful soul, had learned how to honor and prefer the other person. Just as a very Good Book tells us to do.

   Years ago, I gave music lessons to students from two schools. Half came from a prestigious pre-prep school in our area; the other half didn't. The half from the pre-prep were monied and confident. The other half were less privileged.

    One year, at the June recital, rather than print up a program, I asked the children to each make a little announcement before playing. They were to include their name and school, the title of the piece and the composer.

    Half of my students strode to the front, faced the audience cheerily and cranked out the information in firm, confident voices. They all sounded like news anchors at age 8. The other kids walked tentatively to the front, hanging their heads shyly and gave the information without ceremony.

     Afterward, a City Day mother complained to me. "What is wrong with those children from that other school? They had no confidence. All the kids from City Day School spoke up and really took charge."

     She was right; there was a big difference. But I wasn't sure I agreed with her assessment. Her kind were at the top of society and acted accordingly. The others were not, at least in terms of money and status, and didn't feel the confidence that privilege brings. They didn't even know how to fake confidence. But is that such a bad thing?

     I've always liked drooping trees (weeping cherries and willows) and droopy flowers (lilacs and wisteria). Bowed heads and bowed flowers move me. Is it because there is an implied humility in even the bowing of a branch? Would a lilac be so beautiful stuck straight up in the air?

     We are bombarded everywhere with heros and idols who stand out, make waves, stick up for themselves, express themselves. They don't apologize and they run on confidence. Throughout the land, in the general public it seems that suing is a national hobby. We expect perfection, and heaven help those who don't deliver it! We deserve....!!

     Andrew Murray's little book on humility (see Diamonds are Falling! under Spiritual Musings) would be laughable to a City Day mother. But I think he's on to something: I want to think more about humility and to pray for it. To put others forward, rather than myself.

     Decades ago, I walked across the Berkeley campus in California and saw people expressing themselves in every possible notice-me way--off-beat hair and clothes, jewelry, piercings, tattoes. Picking her way through the middle of this carnival was a young woman dressed very simply, clothed entirely in pale gray. Though quietly dressed, she stood out from all the others. I learned to appreciate gray from that very moment.

     Put-yourself-out-there was not the message Christ gave us. Just the opposite, I believe.  He told us not to think so highly of ourselves (which is not at all the same as low self esteem) and to prefer each other. Thank you, Eleanor, for living it out in front of me. And I hope you haven't changed.