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On humility

“…Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Shelley, Ozymandias

About Humility

He got up at a meeting, fresh from 25 years in state prison for murdering a family of four while drunk, and said:

“Before I went to prison, I prayed for patience.
What I got in prison was lessons in patience.”

He was on the AA circuit now, guest hosting meetings and bouncing around the state as a rough type of celebrity. His story hard and brittle, his punishment severe and all of it only slightly tinged with any sort of redemption. His was a cautionary tale for people trying to make gods out of lesser role models in order to justify and forgive their own failures as human beings. Patched patches of Bondo’d spittle like the rest of us.

The family he killed were mangled and burned into charcoal in the wreck of their car outside the town of Lone Tree California.

Life teaches you lessons at the level of pain required for you to learn the lesson life is trying to teach you, at least that’s what I thought what was he was getting at. In the years since, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about getting something, it’s about the process of becoming nothing. Life is about subtraction, not addition. It’s about learning well enough to teach others, in spite of ourselves, though what we teach is sometimes only our lack and our failures.

In the Navy, before I was 20, I learned a practiced arrogance. As a hospital corpsman stationed in a small dispensary in Hawaii (Lualualei) I met patients, took their x-rays, drew their blood and ran their lab work. When needed, I cleaned them with a straight razor and sewed stiches into arms, legs and heads to make everything sort of straight. When I was done, I prescribed them pills and then filled and typed up their bottles of medication. If I felt I was in over my head, I’d call a helicopter to swoop in and take the patient to Tripler army hospital.

To be honest, I was always in over my head – like a Phys-ed teacher running a nuclear power plant. I also was the housekeeper and the keeper of a very funny official log of my activities. For some reason, none of this has come back to haunt me, legally.

I went on to become a Registered nurse, an open heart, a trauma nurse, an ICU boss and a hospital supervisor. I taught Trauma, advanced critical care certification and some other fancy stuff. I was pretty hot stuff.

Then I fell a long way over years of time. Now, every other year I attend a class on basic CPR. I sit for six hours and listen to someone talk. I don’t question anything, I don’t argue when they are wrong. When it’s my turn to demonstrate the skills I’ve learned, I try to do it earnestly and exactly the way I’ve been told. I am no longer arrogant, I’ve been humbled, though I still squeak like I’m sitting on my balls.


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