When Pat drops me off at the office, I head to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast. I decide to stop by the gym to say hello to my former workout buddies. The gym looks dark. I swipe my badge anyway, but the door doesn’t unlock. I stand there perplexed for a moment. If I felt like a visitor yesterday, I feel doubly so today–I worked on this campus for 5 1/2 years and the only time my badge failed to open the fitness center door was when I broke it in half. I’m a bit indignant about being locked out of the gym, but I remind myself that it’s lucky I decided not to show up un-showered and in my gym clothes only to discover I couldn’t get in.
After a full morning of back-to-back conference calls, I dash down a flight of stairs to meet up with a couple of my friends who are taking time out to have lunch with me. I arrive still on the phone, but manage to get off the phone before we get into the car. We decide on Chinese and head to a local favorite.
An interesting phenomena of having a blog in which you record much of your life is how conversations go with your friends when you see them again. Many seem to feel obligated to read your blog and will apologize for not keeping up with it. I am not offended by people not reading my blog. While I like having an imaginary audience because it seems to keep me writing, which is my real goal, knowing that my real audience is busy and often doesn’t have time to read my blog takes away some of the anxiety about “what will people think?”
Vince, however, does not feel obligated or apologetic when it comes to reading my blog. He simply says, “too many words.” I am not offended by this either. After all, I’ve made a personal choice to write my blog because I want to develop a habit of writing. While I know I should be reading too, I’ve not made the choice to make time for reading. I do not surf other people’s blogs except to take a quick look at people who leave an indication that they’ve read mine. When someone who also has a blog clicks the “like” button on one of my blog entries, I take a quick look at what they are posting out of a curiosity to understand what they liked about mine.
Recently, a photographer and blogger “liked” several of my blog entries. When I go to his blog, I see that he is an artist–someone with vision. When I look at his work, I immediately see the difference in what I do and what he does; the stark contrast between “having fun with it” and creating actual art. I ponder why he reads my blog at all and wonder what he likes about it. I am too intimidated by his talent to give him a “like” in return. I find myself hoping he reads this entry and than alternately worrying that he will. My admiration makes me feel foolish.
The fact that my friends do not read every entry in my blog is actually helpful–otherwise, I really would have nothing new to say to them after not seeing them for 6 weeks. I tell them about my realization that I suffer from a learning disability when it comes to hang gliding and the empathy that I have suddenly discovered for all the people whom I’ve known in my life whom I judged as stupid because they didn’t have a talent that I had. If nothing else comes from hang gliding, I am at least reminded of the Zen lesson of allowing the ego to be diminished.
Humility is a difficult lesson in the end. In my complete incompetence, I have realized that a lifetime of making humiliating experiences into funny stories is not the same thing as having humility. It seems I have taken the approach of creating a good defense by taking the offense in the form of discovering and revealing my personal weaknesses before anyone else does. As if me announcing I suck at something before anyone else does makes it all right.
What I learn now is that humility felt purely comes not from a fear of others finding you out before you do, but from compassion and empathy and the understanding that I am no better than anyone else. I am reminded of a recording of Marianne Williamson a dear friend loaned me for 3 years until I finally listened to it out of guilt. The quote I recall vividly from that multi-CD set is: “You are not special.”
This is what I do not explain to my friends: What I get from hang gliding is the visceral realization that I am not special; I am as limited and inadequate as everyone else. I have intellectually feared and suspected this all along, but when I hang glide, I feel the truth of it physically. The physical realization of this fact leads to the physical sense of humility.
Turns out that when I thought I was feeling humility before, I was really feeling shame. The difference between the two is striking. Humility sneaks over me gently, making me feel more connected to others, more part of the whole of life. Shame strikes suddenly at my gut, causing me to shrink within myself, feeling alienated and alone. When I am shameful, I am full of fear. When I am humble, I feel remarkably safe. I hold on to this fleeting feeling just long enough to understand that it’s a breakthrough moment. But like all breakthroughs (at least for me), they appear suddenly and briefly, only to retreat to be learned all over again at a later date.
I shake away a sense of sudden vulnerability I feel and return to my social self. I become effusive; I can’t stop talking. It’s as if I shield the soft places with a torrent of words, distracting from what’s important but frightening. Afterwards, I think about my friends and wonder why they even make time for me when all I do is babble at them. I think about how lucky I am to have patient and caring people in my life. Maybe my luck with friends makes me special? No, no. I am not special.