During my early morning walk today, I felt a deep sense of awe looking up the majestic redwood trees growing near my mother’s home. There was a simplistic beauty in the way the rising sun extended its rays between the leaves and branches. The aging crevices of the tree trunks gave the impression that these trees carry a kind of wisdom unknowable to any of us. We’re left to surrender, receive and be grateful. I finished my walk inspired by the trees to write about what it means to be humble.
Whenever I think about lessons in humility, and there have been many, I often think of Mr. Davis, the bus driver. In 1999, he drove a school bus for a school district where my older son was attending kindergarten. I would arrive early at the end of the school day with my younger son and Mr. Davis would step out of the waiting bus with a big smile on his face to dote on my little guy. When the students were dismissed, he often checked with my kindergartener about what he learned in class. His friendly and easy going nature made each of us feel comfortable in his company.
It wasn’t long before these afternoon visits with Mr. Davis became a regular part of our weekdays. Though most of them focused on playing with my son for 20-30 minutes, I also enjoyed talking with him about anything from parenting to politics, or basketball to jazz. In many ways, I believe the time with Mr. Davis provided a glimpse of what it would have been like to talk to my own father if he were still alive. I recall the way he seemed to be impressed about my ability to keep up with his enthusiasm for jazz. He even recorded some artists like Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and others on cassette tapes for me. Just the way I’m certain my Daddy would have done.
Mr. Davis added so much meaning to our days that I made sure to exchange contact information when my husband and I decided to move the family to Georgia. It was my hope that I would be able to continue to share news about how my sons were growing and how we were managing the shift to Southern living. Shortly after settling into our new home, I received a package from Mr. Davis that contained a big slice of humble pie.
The large envelope held newspaper articles featuring Mr. Davis along with other retired military men describing their memories and experiences relating to a 1961 discrimination complaint against the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. (Out in the Open after 45 Years) Mr. Davis was a member of the Original Mare Island 21ers who filed the formal complaint about discriminatory practices in the Navy. First, I was struck by the enormity of his role and impact on African-American history in the military due to his courageousness. “Guys,” I announced to my sons, “Mr. Davis is walking history! And I never realized it!” Then I replayed our conversations in my mind to see where I had missed the signs of his hidden greatness. It became apparent that Mr. Davis actually demonstrated his greatness in every moment that I spent with him.
Mr. Davis offered GRACE. I often made efforts to keep up with his position on politics or his interpretations about the stylings of Miles Davis. In my mind, our conversations were engaging because his views represented “old school” and mine “new school.” The truth is…new school is not always so new. There’s no doubt he could have corrected or informed me about many of the topics we talked about but he didn’t. He allowed me to just be me. His grace was greatness.
Mr. Davis demonstrated HUMILITY. Not once did he use his knowledge or experience to over-shadow my place in my journey. Certainly, he had to know all the learning and growing I still had before me. However, Mr. Davis knew that listening with restraint to an overzealous person was an example of strength as was speaking up without restraint to injustice and discrimination. His humility was greatness.
After all these years, I now look back to Mr. Davis with a deep sense of awe as I remember his endearing smile and realize that the sparkle in his eyes hinted at the fire of an activist for righteousness and justice that existed within him. The gentle wrinkles that framed his face carried an unknowable wisdom that became visible only when I surrendered, received, and embraced gratitude. Thank you, Mr. Davis, for showing me what it means to be humble.