When I was about ten, I was visiting my cousins in Costa Rica, and we decided we would dress up and sing. We taped strands of colored paper in our hair. I was still in my dorky glasses-wearing phase, and I donned a pink belly shirt. While my cousins took the more conservative route and chose to sing already famous songs, I decided now was the time to debut my song-writing talent. I don’t exactly remember the words I wrote, but they were pop-y and spoke of betrayal and desire, adapted to a ten-year-old’s mind. The refrain ran something like, “Oh baby, why’d you have to go and love her?” At the time, I thought it was great that my aunt was recording us, as we each took turns singing in her bathroom. I went first of course. I felt like a star.
The summer we were engaged, Tim and I traveled to Costa Rica for him to meet my extended family. We stayed at my aunt and uncle’s finca with everyone. One of the nights we were eating and dancing, and then we all sat down to watch some old home videos on the projector. I had forgotten about the video of my little ten-year-old self. Suddenly, there I am, belly shirted, glasses-wearing, pop song writing ten-year-old Maria, singing my awkward, heartfelt song to the man I was going to marry.
I was so instantly embarrassed. I remember plunging my head into his lap, as everyone exploded into laughter, Tim included. I turned bright red; my stomach sank. Full, brilliant humiliation.
This scene came to me again suddenly today, and I thought it a fitting point of entry into something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: community. I find myself wondering often how different my life as a woman and a mother might be if we still lived communal lives, as people used to do, as many still do. Community leads me to thinking of my humanity, of what it means to be a human woman in this world, of what it means to desire community with my fellow humans.
I want a radical kind of humility. I long for the person such humility would make me. The kind of humility that made St. Francis hope he would be turned away from the monastery with little Brother Leo, saying “That would be perfect joy!” What beauty! To rely so fully on God, to know with such abandon that nothing, most especially anything we accomplish, belongs to us, but rather belongs fully to our Father, and in turn to our brothers and sisters.
But this humility comes at a price. The price of the loss of pride, of “dignity,” of “self-respect,” of all the names we give it, which makes it a hard virtue to accomplish. Humility is not a prized trait, or state of being, in this world because we hate being embarrassed, we hate being humbled, being laughed at, being wrong. That stomach dropping moment of vulnerability that puts us at the mercy of others. We find any reason to defend ourselves against being disrespected, turned aside, ignored, or worse, made fun of.
Yet, we are told to turn the other cheek. Not only to allow ourselves to be humbled, but to willingly submit to this humiliation. How radical! What a striking, beautiful call.
Community, real community, comes at the price of vulnerability. The ability to be vulnerable with our brothers and sisters necessitates humility, a turning outward from ourselves toward them, a willingness to listen and to assume that what they have to say is of greater, much greater importance than what we have to say. Can we learn to listen? Can we learn to desire to listen? Not just listen because we know we have to or in order to be listened to in turn. To listen because we desire so ardently to love the other, to make the other feel loved.
“To be happy is to love together,” Fr. Jean CJ d’Elbee tells us.
How different the world would be if we could be vulnerable with one another, if we could really communicate and really listen, if we could love instead of react, if we could be a refuge for one another.
What if we welcomed every moment of humiliation as an opportunity to squash all our selfishness, as an opportunity to flatten all the pride that keeps us from effectively loving the other? What if we loved, and we forgave, and we gave every ounce of ourselves until it hurt? Even if it means we’re disrespected, even if it means we come last.
Peace be with you, brothers and sisters.
“God created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.” Cardinal John Henry Newman