He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Living on the Mountain: Humble Roots

As I've mentioned before, I was born in the mountains into a working-class family.  We were quite destitute, a fact that I am only able to understand in hindsight.  As a child, I had no idea that we were so incredibly impoverished.  I had no idea at the time that my mother could only survive while working and taking classes at the community college with the help of government assistance and the help of my grandparents in caring for me after school.  I had no idea that she had to ration our food so carefully; I thought that fried cheap bologna meat and pickles were the best foods ever.  Poverty and simplicity were my normal lifestyle at the time.

Unfortunately, I did not stay as rooted in that poverty and simplicity as the rest of my family who remained in the mountains.  As I moved into my teenage years, I grew arrogant and prideful, whiny and self-centered.  While I was chopping away at my humble roots and pulling them up with the same ferocity I used in digging for a buried pipeline one summer when I was 19, my grandfather remained as rooted and humble as ever.  Despite his successes as a farmer, hunter, driver, miner, and country preacher, he somehow grew ever more humble.  He understood himself as a simple man just trying to do the right thing day by day.

He also understood his poverty, not because he did not have enough money at that point in his life, but because he had worked incredibly hard to get it and had left a gigantic pile of things sacrificed behind him in his quest to provide a good life for his family.  My grandfather did not have much left of his old self; he had given up his smoking, drinking, and gambling in favor of a cleaner and simpler life without frills or much in the way of leisure.  He was impoverished in the eyes of the world, profoundly lacking in the worldly virtues of self-indulgence and ego-worship.  He did not have what was prized so highly by his fellow citizens: an expensive and flashy car, fancy clothes, hired help, or surplus cash.  What surplus wealth he had, he gave away to those who needed it in the form of food or clothing for the most part.

He shed all the things that kept him from being the godly man he wanted to be.  He gave himself away freely, leaving only a core of love for all people and every virtue flowing from it.  He was unfailingly patient, kind, merciful, and generous with everyone he met.  Every moment was an opportunity for love, and he took full advantage of those opportunities.  He was able to do this because of a permanent disposition of humility; he was grounded in a realization of his own stark limitations through facing the brutal difficulties of his daily struggle to thrive in a place where most folks barely survive.

Battling the mountains day in and day out left him humble and willing to learn the many valuable lessons they had to teach him.  May we all be so willing to learn from battling the mountains in our own lives, hopefully to conquer them as he did through the never-ending pursuit of self-perfection.  May we all be so rooted in humility that we can consistently grow toward the light of love as he did.

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