I got on the train and sat down on a two-person seat. As the train filled up, a forty-something man in a suit sat next to me. I was still traumatized from taking the wrong train the week before. So I asked him, “Is this the Gladstone train?”
He replied, “Yes.”
Waves of relief ran through me. “Thank you,” I said. Then I pulled out my laptop and started typing.
He asked “What do you do?”
We chatted about each other’s professions. He works at a financial services firm and is the lead of a technology group. I asked him a ton of questions about it. As he spoke, I realized that this is a man who is advanced in his career (he has been in technology for 15+ years now), and incredibly knowledgeable on the finance industry.
When the conductor came around to check train passes the man noticed my stop was unfamiliar to him. “Where is Millington?” he wondered aloud.
I glanced at his pass and answered, “It’s much further down from Millburn, your stop.”
I found that he could list all the stops from the beginning of the line up to Millburn. But he had no idea what came after. I could recite about eight more stops, up to Millington. But I could not tell you what came after.
Soon, we arrived at Millburn and he got up to leave. We exchanged names and said a friendly goodbye.
Afterwards, I sat there thinking about what happened. It seems like the knowledge we can accumulate is limited by what we experience.
If this is true, then we must travel farther, seek out new experiences, and push our limits to the very end. Because where we never go, we will never know.
My friend, Victoria, has three sisters. Can you imagine growing up with three other females? Anyone with a sister knows it involves a lot of arguing over bathroom rights, secret borrowing of clothes, and constant competition to be better in everything. My own sister and I still look at each other suspiciously whenever our favorite items of clothing go missing. And we don’t even live together anymore (it happens during visits, I swear!!).
Victoria once described her relationships with her sisters as a blessing. She said something like, “Back when we were younger, if I tried to leave the house in a dress I thought looked cute but apparently wasn’t, my sisters would straight up tell me. They’d say, that is the ugliest dress ever. Go back and change!”
Siblings keep you grounded because they are one of the only people in the world who will tell you the truth. They are not afraid to make fun of you or insult you. Sometimes it hurts, but you grow from it. You learn that you have been going out in unfashionable outfits and that you’ve been dating awful people. They’ll definitely let you know when you are being ridiculous. Basically, siblings (and any other people who are so close to you that they are like siblings) help you learn the truth about yourself.
Humility requires self-awareness. How can we know if we are below someone if we don’t actually know where we stand? Are you self-aware?
Pictures of my sister and I!
Last one was from graduation day, stolen from my sister’s Facebook =)
What an insightful week it has been. All week, I’ve been asking people what they think Humility means. It is fascinating to hear what people have to say. Here are some quotes from people I have talked to.
Humility- understanding one’s place knowing that there is somebody out there greater than oneself. At the same time, if one excels at one area, he or she does not put themselves as superior over others below their level.
Washing the dishes. Happily.
To be able to see from another person’s perspective and understand differences respectably, regardless of right or wrong.
And here are some quotes on humbleness/humility from around the Web.
Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing. ― Camille Pissarro
Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. ― Ann Landers
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. ― C. S. Lewis
To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength. ― Criss Jami
Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue. Even “humble” attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe. ― David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue (I just love this one)
I was reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss when a slightly overweight man plopped down onto the seat next to me. Yuck. I couldn’t believe I would have to suffer a whole hour and ten minutes on the train next to someone who was already intruding on my personal space. I tried to shift even closer to the window. When I was pressed up firmly against it, and could not go any further, I continued reading. I became immersed in the story and did not give the rest of the world another thought.
We passed the two major connection hubs. Now we were well on our way into the center of Jersey. No one came by to check tickets. The conductor finally came around after the fourth stop. He glanced at everyone’s tickets. He saw the overweight man’s. Then he did a double take when he saw mine. “Where are you going?” he asked.
I didn’t answer. I had already tuned the world out.
“Where are you going, Miss?” he tried again.
I absentmindedly put my ticket away (it is a monthly pass and it does not have to be collected, just shown to the conductor). I flipped the page. The whole train was waiting for me to reply.
The overweight man nudged me. I thought, “Geez, what does he want.” I looked at him and then looked at the conductor. Oh. What’s happening?
“What’s the problem?” I asked the conductor.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Millington.”
“You’re on the wrong train.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Yes…this is the Spring Valley line. You’re gonna have to get off at the next stop and wait for the next train back to New York. Or take a cab…the next train back isn’t for another three hours.”
I felt all the energy drain out of me.
He shrugged. “You should’ve went one more track down while boarding. Track 1 is kind of hidden.”
I was deposited at the next stop. I wanted to shake my fist at the departing train and say, “Gosh darn, Spring Valley train! You ugly, rusted metal, familiar-looking thing that had me thinking you were the Gladstone train!!!” But I would’ve looked like a fool. Not that I didn’t already.
There I was, in a rather sorry state. Confused looking, and heavily burdened with my laptop bag on my back, another large cloth carry-all on my arm, and my big purse. I checked the train schedule and confirmed what the conductor had said, that the next train would be in three hours. I looked up my location and found that I was in the middle of nowhere, AKA an hour away from either the city and home. I sat on the steps and read some more while I thought about what to do next.
I figured, if I wait for the next train to come and bring me back to NYC, and then wait for a Gladstone train to bring me to my house, I would get home at about 2am. I was not ready to face that reality. So I did what every person with a loving, devoted family member did. I called my mom.
“Hey Mom….so…I took the wrong train when I left New York.”
“I’m at a random train stop. It’ll be another three hours before a train comes by….Can you pick me up? I love you.”
“I was just about to go to the gym. I’m in my workout clothes. I was going to use the steam room today. She sighed. Ok I’ll be there. Where are you?”
We figured out the details and she started making her way over to where I was.
Sure enough, an hour and a half later, my mom pulled up at the train station. “Hi honey, there was so much traffic coming up. How did you end up here?”
I recounted my story to her. She shook her head and said, “It’s all right. I make mistakes every day. And I understand. I had a bad day too.” She started chatting away about the events of her day.
I was pretty amazed by the whole exchange. I had expected a very angry mother, a mother full of lectures, and a mom that wanted to rip my head off for making her miss her Gym day. I couldn’t believe I was being forgiven so easily.
“Sorry for making you drive all the way over here, Mom.”
“Honey, we all have bad days. It’s okay….
…but how lucky are you to have a mom who loves you so much she would miss the one day of the week she could go to the steam room, hmm??” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
We both laughed happily. And then she invited me to go to the gym with her next week.
That incident was such a humbling moment. I really shouldn’t have gotten on the wrong train. I have taken those trains a hundred times before and I should have known better. I inconvenienced someone because of my own error. But, they were ready to just let it go like it was no big deal. They didn’t expect anything in return or make me feel bad. They just acknowledged that I am a human, I make mistakes, and we all have bad days.
I hope I can be that kind and humble next time someone else makes a mistake, and I am in a position to help them correct it.
Greg is an old man. He has been that way since age seventy-two, when he retired from being the local councilman in Wood-Ridge city. He was a good and fair politician, who took care of the less fortunate while appeasing the wealthy. He ensured new facilities and parks for the poor sections of town. He did this by allowing his friends in high places to hold elaborate banquets in the name of raising funds. He was the distinguished guest in all one hundred and sixty three banquets.
He looks back on his life with fondness and pride. His four children, three boys and one girl, are fully grown in their fifties. They have become bankers and lawyers. His wife, Margaret, is seventy-eight and was a kindergarten teacher in her former life, almost twenty years ago.
Greg and Margaret go to church service every Sunday. Their church is a medium-sized, white building with fancy pillars in the front. Those pillars were erected when Greg was on the board of church elders, and they were the brainchild of Greg’s dear friend, Michael, who has since passed away. At the time, Greg was ambivalent about the eye-catching pillars. He did not find them particularly attractive, nor did he find them utterly repulsive. However, his feelings were not so strong that he wanted to go against the grain of general opinion, so he approved the design, along with everyone else.
Greg and Margaret take long, detoured walks back home every Sunday after church. They start by walking from their front-row seats to the exit of the building, waving to acquaintances, and nodding graciously to admirers (Greg was, after all, once a famous councilman in the town). When they are outside the door of the church, Greg waits patiently at the bottom while Margaret climbs down the steps slowly. The two of them then stroll down the church sidewalk, go down onto Main Street, cross the intersection by the train, and instead of going right, they go left, walking the entire circumference of the circle until they are back at their house.
Today, there is a little child in front of the candy shop on Main Street. She has ragged hair that looks like it has not been washed in a week. She is wearing a worn-out T-shirt and beaten up jeans. She looks about eight years old and is clutching the hand of her mother, an equally sad-looking woman. Her mother is telling her that they do not have the money for candy. “Not today, my love. We need to save the dollar for brussel sprouts.”
Greg has five dollars in his pocket. He and Margaret brought it to buy their weekly treat, double scoop cones at Dilly’s Ice Cream Shop. The cones cost two dollars and fifty-cents each. Greg likes the flavors, Chocolate and Cookie Dough. Margaret likes Orange Cream and Raspberry Sherbet. They like to each get their own cones.
Greg notices the little girl staring longingly at the candy. He thinks about the ice cream prices. A single scoop cone costs two dollars. Greg could settle for just the Chocolate or the Cookie Dough and Margaret might not mind just the Orange or the Raspberry Sherbet. But, he would have to ask her and it is a lot of trouble. For a few moments Greg stands there. He is torn between the little girl and his ice cream.
Greg catches his reflection in the front glass of Dilly’s. He stares at the visor on his head. “Wood-Ridge Annual Golf Outing 1993” is imprinted on the front. Then, he remembers all the good that he has done and how much money the annual golf outing raises each year for people just like this little girl.
Margaret calls him from the shop. “Dear, I ordered your usual!”
Greg steps into the shop and presents his five dollars.
The little girl walks away holding her mother’s hand.
This is an interesting article. I often wonder about what people are like behind their exteriors. What if that smelly homeless guy on the corner has an amazing heart? What if the sixteen-year-old girl working at the checkout line in your local grocery store is plotting revenge against her best friend? What if I’m not as nice as I think I am?
The exercise asks some really great questions that make you think. Questions like, “Would people who know you well say you can be pretty judgmental sometimes?” and “Picture a button that, if pressed, would make 1,000 strangers across the planet drop dead instantly and also make a career dream of yours come true or lead you to true love. No one would ever know that you pressed the button if you do. You’re given exactly one hour in front of the button to think about the decision. At the end of the hour, would you press it?”
If you have the time, it is definitely worth looking over. Maybe you’ll learn something interesting about yourself that you didn’t know before.
I like to sip water slowly at dinner parties. Because every minute that my lips are against that glass is a minute I don’t have to speak to anyone. I hear snippets of conversation around me. On one side, people are talking about the latest iPhone.
“You must have gotten it. The newest version is always in your hands the same day it is released.”
“Yes, but this time the limited edition, diamond encrusted, golden-keyed, specially initialed one was sold out. O.M.G. I had to settle for the regular newly released one.”
On the other side, people are talking about new loves.
“Seriously?? You’re going on a date with him! Eee, Ahhh! Now I have to see a pic from Facebook!”
And here I am. Floating somewhere in the atmosphere between two perfectly different social climates. I can’t bear to join any single one (as if I would be a good conversationalist) because I love to listen. As people speak, I note their expressions, speed of speech, and the excitement or dullness in their voice. I take in content and emotion, mix the two, and try to capture the essence of what is happening. In other words, I am an outsider.
When my family moved to a new house, the teachers attributed my quietness to me being the new kid in the class. As the weeks stretched into years, I found myself being persuaded over and over again to “speak up”. The teachers would look my mother in the eye during back to school night and say, “She is quite timid.”
Others have described it as some sort of positive quality. “She always smiles and nods. She is such a happy child. She is well-behaved and patient.” Still others said withdrawn types were depressed (or was it depressing?) and bad.
But the truth is, the quiet ones are neither. Not incapable of loud speech, nor overwhelmingly good, or so-far-gone bad.
My napkin drops on the floor. I pick it up, and stop daydreaming about quietness and join in. “I downloaded iOS7 too!”
And then I get to slip back into my mind and observe and listen.
You take the present and the current conversation. I’ll take the feelings and the words.
Sometimes, when my heading is spinning, and the day seems altogether too long, I make myself a cup of milk tea (half green tea and half two percent) and head outside. I walk to the High Line and sit on one of the benches. I look up, down, and out. I remember how massive the world is and how small I am. Somehow I always feel a whole lot better.