She turns to me from the comfort of her lift chair, from the depths of pillows and blankets that keep her warm these days.
What about humility?
What about it?
What do you think it means?
Oh, that’s a big one.
Yes, it is. What do you think it means?
I think back to when I first began to consider how big a human body is.
It’s not big. It’s not big at all.
Think about how many people you can cram into an ‘old school’ phone booth, or a VW bug, or any other ‘small’ space. Good. Now think about how many people you could wedge into a school classroom, from floor to ceiling, or a court house, or a church. Yes. Now move into the nearest city park, a park with no ceiling, a park whose upper limit is the atmosphere. Can you see it? Can you sense the immensity, the mind-boggling enormity of it?
As it happens, we are very, very small. We are not in charge.
Well? She prompts me out of my quietude, pulls me from my silent thoughts.
Okay. Humility has very little to do with insisting that someone else is ‘better’ or more worthy than I am. It has nothing at all to do with words or with piety. It’s all about recognizing and admitting that there is something greater at work, that we’re not all that much.
She cocks her head to the left: Yes.
It’s not a church thing, although our church friends might say that it is.
It is me in a ‘fall down on my knees’ moment. It’s me knowing in my gut that I am an infinitely small piece of something that is infinitely large and always changing.
(We actually talk like this – challenging each other to think, to articulate.)
Whether or not God is in control, I am a very small part of it and it is a very, very big thing. I’m recognizing – I’m admitting – my dependence on the system that is Earth, on the air that I breathe, the water that I drink. I didn’t make those things. I had no hand in it.
Good. What else.
It is not a question, but a command from the matriarch.
Humility means that I am no more and no less important than the people around me. It means that when I feel strong or when I am badly beaten down, there is always more to the story, a story that I should pay attention to, a story that I cannot possibly know all the details of.
It means that I should step up, that I should serve. It means that I’m part of a great work, a masterpiece of nature, maybe of the heavens, whether or not I have faith, whether or not God is at work.
I like this, she says.
Me too, Mom. I like our talks.