Hollowtop Smoke Signals
A manipulative interpretation of a holiday
Recently, while searching the internet for a topic to write about, I came across a website dealing with holidays. After entering the site, I discovered that the 22nd day of February was--“Be Humble Day.” Naturally, my first thought was, “At last, a day in which people are encouraged to be like me.”
However, after frank introspection, I had to admit, for a portion of my life, the word “humble” and my actual personality had little in common. In fact, during my teenage years, my demeanor was best summed up by Mac Davis’s hit song, “Oh Lord It’s Hard To Be Humble.”
As a result, I cultivated a distinct style of humility, wherein I projected modesty only when doing so best suited my interests. My innovative facade worked so well, after a while, I began to believe it myself. Hence, I conferred upon it the unassuming title of--“improvised immodest modesty.”
For example, on occasion, a social event would come up that I didn’t feel like attending. Nevertheless, after taking into consideration all the poor souls who wouldn’t get to see me, I would go anyway. As I saw it, to not go would have been selfish on my part. Furthermore, upon leaving the festivities, I would wish everyone a thoughtful farewell, such as—“Hey, it’s been a real slice of heaven. I’m outta here!”
Also, I was very aware that there is such a thing as being too humble. For instance, waiting until everyone else gets first dibs on a piece of birthday cake can leave the humble one holding a very modest plate of crumbs. So, in a nod to reality, I would heed the old adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Instead of stoically waiting in line to starve, I would jostle my way forward while appealing to people’s better nature by shouting something like--“Make way!--Emaciated Weight Watcher’s survivor!”--Make way!
Another example of bogus decency came about when I learned of a relative who insisted on hiking alone in the woods. Fairly overflowing with improvised compassion for his wellbeing, I pleaded with the tactless trekker to let someone in the family know where he was going beforehand. Otherwise, I explained, if something bad happened to him, I would have no idea where to find his wallet.
Then one day, in the midst of one of my most immodest displays of improvised modesty, my self-centered existence came crashing down. Out of the blue, an extremely insensitive (perceptive) young lady said to me, in a voice dripping with sarcasm,–“Art, there’s no need for you to be so humble. You’re not all that great.”
Aghast, for once, I didn’t know how to respond. It was my first authentic taste of humble pie, and I didn’t like it. Furthermore, the demeaning experience forced me to confront my less-than-genuine persona, and I didn’t like that either. Then again, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. To my utter amazement, I actually began to put others before myself, without an ulterior motive. Since then I have learned that--life is one long lesson in humility.
Nowadays, I’m pretty sure the term most used by others to describe my demeanor is, “modest to a fault.” I strive each day to be humble in my interactions with others. Still, doing so takes a lot of effort. Especially when one considers that everything I do is--a work of Art.
Art lives in Harrison, Montana. His essays, stories, and poetry have been published in newspapers, journals, literary magazines, and on-line magazines.