One of the most bizarre things about driving is how many moments of awareness I have had while doing so. It is precisely one of these times that I have to share with you. A few years ago, I worked for a nonprofit agency as a case manager in the field. This meant that I met with clients at various locations in the community. And, I was in my car…a lot! Nearly every day I drove through the particular intersection of Interstate 35 and Riverside Dr. in Austin, TX. Needless to say, this was normally an unspectacular event.
I am not proud of what I have to mention next. Red traffic lights, on occasion, can seem exceptionally long. On the day of my story, I pulled up to the red light anticipating an inconvenience. My impatience grew. My eyes avoided the gaze of the homeless man holding a sign. I jumped into my head instead thinking of appointments and responsibilities, the endless “To Do’s” of the day. Then, I made a lazy effort to fix my gaze on the sky. It was along the line of “Why not? It’s blue and it will do.” And, there were the Monarchs.
What can I really say here about the beauty of thousands of butterflies sweeping through the air? How spectacular their wings! The colors and patterns! Thoughts rushed in about their amazing journey. They seem so small and fragile but they travel over 2000 miles. I once watched a documentary on the subject. The Monarchs take up to two months to complete their journey, arriving at the same destination every year. Three generations of butterflies have died since the previous migration meaning that none of the Monarchs flying have ever made the journey before. “How do they know the way back to the place their ancestors started?” I marveled.
The sight honestly moved me to laughter and tears. I looked around hoping to see the faces of everyone else in awe of the spectacle. At that point, I was shocked to see that no one else even noticed. The bum looked dejected and tired. A woman next to me seemed to be on a very important mobile phone call. Everyone else was just as I had been, locked in to the objectives of the day. I couldn’t believe what they were missing. Here was this amazingly delicate force of nature and I almost missed it, too. The display was truly humbling.
Someone told me today that humility is a gift. While I was thinking about it, everyone around us proceeded to discuss that humility is an action, humility is the result of actions, or humility is something you lose the minute you say you have it. I am not discrediting those aspects of humility and am dedicated to the continued exploration of them all. Regardless, it was the “gift” part that stuck. It brought me back to the moment I looked up and saw the Monarchs. I did not earn that beautiful moment. I did not do anything to deserve any grace at that time. I was not especially enlightened, taking any sort of deliberate action, or trying to approach my life with any particular mindset. I was bored. I was melancholy. I was up in my head analyzing and most likely resenting parts of my life. It was at that time that I looked up and was humbled. I did nothing. The humility was a gift.
As a therapist, I can so easily get wrapped up in the actions people take, their motivations, or the patterns of their thoughts. I believe in the power of positive thinking, the value of acts of kindness, and the need to discover our true passions. However, I realize now that none of those things can make me or anyone else grow in self-love. Not, that is, without glimpses of true humility. Regardless of everything I do to ensure you that you are my equal; no matter how hard you try to teach me that I am not greater or less than you, we will only feel humble in spite of ourselves.
I watch people grow in understanding of who they are by making connections with others. I see them build self-esteem by doing “esteem-able” things. The natural outcome is not humility. In fact, some individuals may “self-seek” their way into misery. But, a complete sense of sameness and oneness with others and the assurance that I am a part of something far greater than me? You could never sustain that for me. It is impossible for me to hold you in a space that true. I could not even do that for myself. The best I can do is to admit that humility is elusive and breathe in deeply, weeping tears of joy, as it profoundly passes through me.