Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sartorial Humility, A Collar and A Cuff

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.
-Thomas Merton

Once upon a time, I read from Thomas Merton every day. In The Seven Story Mountain, Merton relates how he went from being a young man about town to a Trappist monk in the beautiful hill country of Kentucky. He wound up missing a lot of cocktail parties but made up for it by becoming a central figure in American and world religious thought.

Merton always went out of his way to emphasize the power of humility in ordinary life. Not an uncommon thought in the writings of people that live in monasteries, but what Merton brought to the field of religious writing was that the reader knew he had lived the high life and stepped away to take a longer view of the issues that present themselves to all of us. Every day.

As I note above, Merton believed that it was humility that makes us "real". Oh, how I agree with that idea. I find that whenever I start to feel really important I get a good, healthy dose of humility that probably saves me in the long term. Scene one...

I am traveling in a very pretty part of Florida and find that I have to go to a local mall department store first thing in the morning for some sundry or another. But it did not dampen my spirits. I was on a terror of a roll. Winning everything I touched. Golden words issuing from my lips (whenever I was paid to speak them) that were seemingly accepted as truth by anyone in the general listening vicinity. Or at least that is how it seemed at the time. In any event, I was feeling pretty damned good about myself. That morning. As I headed into the men's department of a just-opened store.

One of the things about Florida is that you have quite a few older ladies working in department stores that really know what they are doing. Ladies who have worked counters at Saks and such places for years. As I was considering a display of some sort, I was approached by one such Elderly Matron of Retailing, no more than four foot five inches tall, who peered up at me and said

EMR: "Excuse me, yacallah".
ML [confused/diverted] "I beg your pardon?"
EMR: [somewhat put out] "Yacallah--yacallah"
ML [very confused] "I'm sorry...I don't understand you". I was afraid she required some sort of esoteric medical attention.
EMR: [as if I had a mental problem] "Your...............COLLAR. It is TURNED UP IN BACK"
ML [embarrassed to death, scrabbling at the back of my neck]
EMR: "Here, bend down, I'll get it, I'll get it."

After I complied meekly and she fixed my twisted collar, she looked up at me again from a height of five foot four enhanced to seven feet tall by years of top drawer store experience..."Honey, you look good...pretty suit and tie, shiny shoes...but what good is all that if you have a collar?" Adequately brought back to Earth, my formerly undefeatable self went on my way. Humbled. And better for it.

Scene two, some months later...

I am beginning the biggest trial of my career. Part of a hand picked team beginning a two-week out of town battle against tremendous odds. We are all getting ready to troop over to a large courthouse in a small town to open the case. The head of our side was a lion of the courtroom. Impeccable. Unflappable. In command of his surroundings at all times. Subject to call by private jet at any moment by any number of top corporate concerns to handle trials literally anywhere. That first morning of trial, a dozen of us were all preparing to troop out to court. But only two of us would get to actually stand up and talk. The lion. And me. I wasn't nervous. Just very proud of myself. He strode over to my side. Lions always stride over to ones side. Glanced me up and down...

L: Ready to go tiger?
ML: I'm ready to rock, yes sir.
L: Great. Butyurcuff...
ML: [a deja vous induced bead of sweat appearing on my brow] I...um...beg your pardon?
L: Yurcuff
ML: [almost thrown off my pins] Eh?
L: [as if he had heard from an Elderly Matron of Retailing that I had a mental problem] "Your....left...cuff...is....turned....down...."

No, he didn't offer to fix it for me. But actually it broke the ice a bit. We hit it off famously after that. When I returned home after two weeks, I pulled a small traveling volume of Merton off the shelf of my library and put it back into my briefcase. Where it belonged. Humility makes us real. And that, last time I checked, is the goal.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and story and lesson. I've met lots of people who have read Merton. I need to start!

Ben said...

Merton and Teilhard were my favorites when I was reading this stuff amongst my Jesuit educators. I think I was a better man for it then.

I should dust it off for my own good now. Thanks for the nudge.

Hilarious stories. I once thought I must have been kicked in the head by a horse, suffering traumatic brain injury, because I was going out serially unzipped without any good explanation. With rehab it passed. It still happens, as all permanent injury does, but with much less frequency.

CashmereLibrarian said...

A few weeks ago, I walked through the law school lunchroom on my way to meet my husband. A lot of my students were there and they greeted me with big smiles. As I met my husband, I remarked on how sweet it was that my students were always so happy to see me. Then I realized I had toilet paper hanging out of my pants.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

This post hit home for me. Humility is one of those intangibles that make us a better person. The funny thing about it is that too much is just as bad as not enough.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

This post hit home for me. Humility is one of those intangibles that make us a better person. The funny thing about it is that too much is just as bad as not enough.

M.Lane said...

ST, I think you will like his writings. He was tremendously popular some time ago, seemingly not so much now. Big surprise.

Ben, my problem isn't in my permanent conditions but in the transient ones!!

Mrs. Scoffs, like everything else. I want to do a lay retreat at Merton's former monestary in Kentucky. I hear Happy Hour is lame though.

CL [you NYT quoted person you] that is so funny! Well, humility can come from almost any angle in my experience.

Thanks for the comments everyone!


The Daily Connoisseur said...

Ha! Great post and a great message. Yes, we could all use a regular dose of humility. Living in Los Angeles- the land of the ego- this could especially come in handy!

heavy tweed jacket said...

Wondeful post that my mind kept returning to throughout the day. Remembering one's shortcomings and limits is one of the hardest and yet most freeing things. Thanks.

Turling said...

At least you found out early in the day. My poor father walked in from work one evening only to have his snot nosed kid (me) point out the dried shaving cream behind his ear. Luckily, my father was already a very humble man and simply laughed it off.