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Letter to my friend Humilité

Dear Humilité,

We haven’t got together in a while so I thought I would write you a note to catch up. Actually, I did see you very briefly the other day on the bus, when you averted a mini-drama. It was quite something and I was very pleased with what you did! The old Chinese lady was sitting right behind the bus driver and was getting ready to get off the bus. She was watching the road, gathering her cane and her bags of oranges and I saw her pull out of her left pocket her Bus Pass and then, absentmindedly, trying to stuff it back in, but she missed it and the Pass actually fell to the floor. Dear Humilité, I saw you bend down, pick it up and swiftly put it back in her pocket. The bus stopped, the doors opened and the old lady disembarked and your act of random kindness was done and over in 5 seconds top. I smiled and looked around to see if anybody else had caught it but the young man next to me was engulfed in his music and the couple on the other side was chatting softly leaning on each other. I looked your way again but you were already gone.

So this little bus incident got me to think of you and I wanted to reconnect with you. The truth is that I do hear about you regularly in Church. The Priests talk about you and your friends all the time. They even give us very practical examples on what you do that is so positive and they constantly try to entice us to emulate you. You know how much I love being in Church and I especially love to hear about you; even with the undercurrent of frustration coming from the Priests because they think that we are not really listening to them. I do think they are right about that. But the bottom line is that if I can remember 25% of what they have said I’m still better off than when I came in. I don’t think they should worry, because once I am finished reading the New York Times, I’ll be lucky if I remember 10% of what was in it! So you see, it’s all very normal and that is why they have to keep saying the same things over and over again and that is how I get to hear about you so often….

Humilité, my dear friend, I remember when I was flirting with you when we first met and when I tried to emulate you. You are such a generous person and you provide such good opportunities for others to express themselves. A few years ago, when I decided to copy you, the only creative idea that I could come up with was to have small dinners at my place. I started inviting some of my friends regularly, half a dozen at a time (that’s all I can fit around my table). I fix my best family recipe from France, I serve very good wines and I find the best cheese in town, I even know where to pick the best organic fruits, and again and again, it has worked out very well, we end up having the most wonderful time talking and laughing, relaxing and sharing! Well, last week, while doing the dishes in my little kitchen sink after everyone was gone, I was very pleased with myself and with the way it had turned out, one more time. Then it hit me that I should have invited you… What was this business of complimenting myself and running circles in my own head? I wondered about it but the truth is that I have truly a wonderful group of friends. They are all different, coming from a variety of backgrounds, but they are all beautiful and kind and fascinating. For some of them, their beauty shines especially because of their frailty in old age. For others, it is their gentleness and compassion that is so remarkable. They are thoughtful and witty at the same time; some of them say profound and inspiring things all the time while others are more quiet. But even for the ones that are slower and less articulate, you taught me, Humilité, to be patient and delight in listening carefully until they come up with some wisecrack or unusual comment - and they always do. Really, those dinners are working so well because of my friends, of who they are and not because of me; what I do is just to provide a special space and moment for them to shine. So by the time I had finished the dishes, it occurred to me that you were here all along.

You did teach me a very good lesson about a year ago. Do you remember the very interesting Filipino-Irish couple who invited me for a Lenten retreat and the terrific Dominican Father who conducted it? After Easter, I invited them for dinner and I also invited a couple of my trusted friends to balance the group. The 3 new people had never been to my place yet and it is certainly not the graffiti next to the front door or the dusty staircase that was going to impress them. I felt sure that once in my little apartment, we would all get along very well and have a good time. But I was especially mindful to come up with an exceptional dinner. There is one thing that I have learned about preparing those dinners and it is to make sure to include one hour at the end for shower, change and rest just before the guests arrive. Well, that is not exactly what happened a year ago. I was in the middle of taking the potato gratins out of the oven when the bell rang. I was sure it was one of my old friends since they have a tendancy to arrive early so I ran downstairs to open the door, bare feet, in my sweats, with pink stains on my T-shirt because I had mixed the raspberries and the cream too vigorously, my hair piled up on top of my head with a barrette, holding an oven mitt in each hand, and who do I see at the front door but my guests of honor holding a bouquet of flowers and next to them a tall Dominican in full white habit, holding a bottle of wine, and all of them staring at me with a puzzled look on their face! You stood right behind them and smiled… Oh! Well, what can one do? I laughed too and apologized and then locked myself in the bathroom to change in a hurry. In my younger years, I would have been mortified but thanks to your friendship, I tried to take it in stride. It certainly was not my choice to look like a crazed French chef to these people but c’est la vie and the rest of the evening turned out quite well. Part of the lesson learned was to enjoy wonderful moments as a gift more than a concoction of my own efforts, the other part was to think before running downstairs…

Dear Humilité, I remember the last time we spent some time together: it was at the Gallery Opening, a few months ago, where we both sat by the window next to a depressed young woman. She started telling us about her many problems, she was complaining about a lot of things and I seemed to remember that she was a scientist with a Ph. D in something, who had made money in Silicon Valley but lost it and was very lonely; I don’t remember exactly what she said, I must admit that I thought she was kind of a lunatic and I tuned her out but not you, oh! No, you listened and then you talked. By the way, I was surprised how much you knew about her field, I know you are very bright, but still, you certainly impressed me. And you kept listening and you kept talking and before the evening was over, I was listening too because I could see what you were doing and it was a wonderful feast: first you got her attention, then you gained her respect and then you restored her confidence in herself. By that time, I was just in love with you! Nobody else noticed anything but that young woman went home a different person. Just before she left, you gave her hope, that was your last gift and I was just amazed at this petit miracle that I witnessed that night. I wanted to call you the next day but I have been so busy that I forgot about it and it’s only thanks to the bus incident that I am writing you tonight.

Do you know that some of my friends are crazy about you? Paul uses the most moving expressions when talking about you, he says that “you are patient and kind, you are not jealous or boastful; you are not arrogant or rude, you do not seek your own ways; you do not rejoice over wrongdoings but you rejoice in the truth”. Isn’t it a loving tribute? You deserve it! My friend Therese marketed a whole new line of “little things” after meeting you and she was extremely successful (may her soul rests in peace). She is still known to this day for these tidy bits of nothing that have been picked up by her fans all over the world. It is quite an unusual success story.

Really, I can’t understand why I let so much time go by without contacting you. It is a weakness of mine, that is for sure. I am not proud about it and I am sorry. Dear Humilité, I know you don’t like to be fussed over so I’m not sure you’ll even like this letter but you, more than anyone else in the world, know very well that this is more about my needs than yours. And I do need your help! Only you can help me look at the world in a reversed fashion, focusing on the little things, appreciating the simple joys and the modest successes and finding them in uncommon places. Only you can keep me from drifting away in my own self-content ivory bubble... Please don’t let that happen. Help me whether I ask for it or not. Stay with me especially in those moments where I look so busy and so full of my grand plans. The reason I am writing you this grateful and loving note tonight is to offer you a standing invitation to come by any time, any day, for as long as you wish. Actually, if you could move in, that would be even better. You never ask for much anyhow so you can have the couch in the living room! You will be the best roommate in the world and I will be forever in your debt.

Your loving friend,


-1) I know that Paul was talking about LOVE but they have to go hand in hand and what humility does is that it creates a safe space for true love to blossom, it encourages us to be "tuned" to the other rather than enmeshed and entrapped in ourself, as we usually are.

- 2) Therese Little Way is still my favorite path to compassion and caring for others. See here for more information.

- 3) Praying my own Litany of Humility set the ground for this letter and you can find it on this site: here

- 4) The idea for this letter came to me while reading "No one cared what you had for lunch" (100 ideas for your blog) by Maggie Mason. I highly recommend her book. Idea #21 (her very clever Letter to Boston) and idea #43 (Tell us about your good time) inspired me to write this letter. Thank you, Maggie. And you certainly looked spectacular in that picture on page 37! Check out her own sucessful blog Mighty Girl here and this is also where you can purchase her book.

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