“gospel (n.) Old English godspel “glad tidings announced by Jesus; one of the four gospels,” literally “good spell,” from god “good” (see good (adj.)) + spel “story, message” (see spell (n.1)). A translation of Latin bona adnuntiatio, itself a translation of Greek euangelion “reward for bringing good news” (see evangel).” ~Online Etymology Dictionary
When I got to the library the Russian lady was helping someone else. I did not want to tell the shameful tale of my failure to keep my keys, but I did not want to have to call home for another car key either. That would also mean an embarrassing confession, and on top of that, imperiling (or at least inconveniencing) a brother with the task of coming to my rescue through snowy weather. My courage had no choice but to be screwed to the sticking point. I asked a girl behind the desk if there were a black handled key in the lost and found. “I’ll have to to ask my supervisor,” she replied. But presumably the Russian lady was her supervisor, and she was busy. I did not wait. “I’ll go check where I was sitting,” I said. Ah, the old arm chair where I had been happily reading not so long ago, never guessing that I was keyless. There was no sign of the key there. The studious girl was gone too. I stopped by the upstairs computer lab desk; the girl behind the desk there did not have a black handled car key in her lost and found. She had often brought things I printed from the printer to the desk for me to pick up. I do not think I had thanked her. “We usually send keys to Security,” she said.
When I went downstairs again, there was only one lady behind the desk. I had not spoken to her at all yet. Upon hearing my plight she went to a drawer and opened it. “No key here,” she said. But I knew how to reply. “Where’s Security?” Security is just past advising. When I got there the lady behind that desk was chatting with a friend. I moved between the black-strap barriers that delineated the Security line up to the sign that said “Stop and wait to be called.” “Can I help you?” she said. I came up to the desk and stuttered something that meant “I lost my keys.”
“When?” If only I knew!
“In the last few hours.”
“Nope, no keys today.”
I walked away, checking my pockets.
So it was back to the car for me. Back through the wind, which had picked up, and the snow. I saw a blind man walking with his seeing-eye dog, his scarf completely covering his face. It made sense. Who would bare his face to this wind if it were not for his desire to see?
“If someone were to steal the guitar,” I thought, “That would beat all.” What if someone found the keys and stole the car, guitar, textbooks and all? That would be a most thorough annihilation of me – like that which befell legions XVII, XVIII and XIX in dark Teutoburger Forest on the German side of the Rhine in 9 A.D. On the other hand, how would one trace just a little guitar? A car, on the other hand, might be findable, guitar, thief and all. The thief would have gone his ‘bridge too far’, as the Allies did in operation Market Garden at Arnhem, Gelderland; 120 miles west and 1935 years futureward.
I found car and guitar where I had left them. For what I did next, refer to where I describe what I did last time I was at the car. Just add some intensity due to the library and Security coming up empty. This time I took everything out of my briefcase and everything out of my of all my pockets. I read some more from my book; what else could I do? The book was still engaging and witty but the thought that I was sitting in a cold car in the Clark college parking lot with snow falling around, and no easy way out, could not be easily pushed away. Thoughts of the Donner party, snowbound in Truckee pass, hovered around in the back of my mind. As long as I was reading, I was not moving toward getting out of there. I needed to stop reading. I stopped reading. I had to call home. I reached in my pocket for the cell phone………………………….. It was not in my pocket. It was not in my 4 coat pockets, nor my 4 trouser pockets, nor my 4 jacket pockets, nor my shirt pocket and it was not in either of the two fake pockets on my red vest. This time I really applied myself to searching the car. All the time I had been looking for the key this phone had been at hand and eager to help and I had just felt like it was in the way. The whole thing did not seem fair. It did not make sense to me. (Can you hear the tremor of anger in my voice?) There I was with this amazing machine, this engine attached to wheels, and I even had gas for it, but one little thing separated me from the quick car ride that would take me to my cozy living room. (I once heard that airplanes had made the U.S the size of Pennsylvania; however, I cannot help but think that when airplanes are grounded, it goes back to its usual size.)
Now I really would have to live in the parking lot. I marvelled that I could not bring myself to cry. Somehow I have lost this ability (exceptions such as watching Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel” may apply).
To tell you more of the search would only weary you. Finally my dull senses awoke. “Go to the Music office. There is a telephone there.” This would be the ultimate test.
Did I mention that none of the things were mine? Not the car, nor the guitar (both my dad’s), nor the phone. Even the red vest with the two false pockets was borrowed from my big brother.
I would have to go into the music office and make this call in front of the Lady behind the Desk:
Me: Hi Mom, this is Caleb. Could someone bring a car key to Clark College, I seem to have lost mine.
Mom: Why aren’t you calling from Ethan’s phone?
Me: It would seem I have lost that too…
When I got to the office my orchestra conductor was in the office. I paced the halls. I was not making that call in front of him. I went to a practice room and played on the piano a tune I had written to the words-
Ach Gott, verlass mich nicht,
(Ach, God forsake me not,)
Gib mir die gnaden Hände”
(Give me the hands of grace.)
For the last little while it had been stuck in my head.
Even when the office was clear of guests (the band teacher’s wife and daughter and two ladies who needed to make a call had dropped in), there was still a voice saying “Turn back young man, you’re too young to pray.” But I had to pray. I stepped into the office. On the desk in the music office was a tray – on the tray was a black plastic handled key.
“Praise God,” I said.
“Yes,” said the lady behind the desk.
As I pulled out of the Clark parking lot my car gently swung around on the ice to face the wrong way. Then I crossed the little raised median to face the right way but on the wrong side of the road. I was at peace. This was a mere frying pan compared to the fire I had just been in. I pulled back over the median and drove slowly home. The cell phone was in the car. The folks at home had called it, but providentially I had not been in the car when they called it. If I had, I would have asked them to bring a key, which would not have proved as good in…
Thursday morning I went to group guitar class. I was not feeling well and it looked like a winter day, so I bundled up. I put on my trousers (with four pockets,) a white shirt (with one,) a red vest (with two false pockets,) a blue jacket (with four pockets,) a grey coat, (four pockets) and a turquoise tie (ties don’t have pockets).
Guitar class is a place where I am ahead of the class (my continual consciousness of this aspect of life disgusts me). After class I decided to go up to the library and read a book. However, I made a bargain with myself: “You can only go to the library if first you go to the Financial Aid office and ask if your application for a consortium agreement between Clark college and PCC has been approved.” At Financial aid the boss lady called me into her office and told me that I had forgotten to give my signature on my application, but that even if I had, it was submitted too late. I was a little confused as to why she had called me into her office to tell me this at first, but then she went on to gently explain how I had made a hash of my academic career so far, that I was racking up credit hours in music classes that would not help me get an AA or transfer, and that after taking a certain number of credits I would not be able to get financial aid – like the grasshopper in the Aesop’s fable who plays the fiddle all summer and then is in need in the winter, I would not be able to get financial aid for the required credits: math, social science etc. She listed off some possible math classes; she shuddered as she mentioned trigonometry. ( They use a different type of math in figuring out Financial aid grants.) She advised me to seek advice in the Advising department. I already had my own plan to go to the library. “I’ll seek advice next week,” I thought to myself.
The Ant and the Grasshopper: Illustration by Milo Winter 1919. -Project Gutenberg
I went to the library. I did not need to ask a person for help here. I looked up my book on the library catalogue computer. Upstairs. It said my book was upstairs. I started to go upstairs. “Wait a minute, I should check the call number.” I went back to the computer. Armed with the slip of paper which I had written the call number on, I remounted the stairs. I hardly needed the call number’s help. I found it, and with a feeling somewhat akin to that which Columbus felt after having dead reckoned his way to Hispaniola, I sat down to enjoy the reward.
The book was E. B. White’s ‘One Man’s Meat’ and it was engaging and witty. While sitting there, occasionally chuckling (you can’t laugh aloud in the library,) over some turn of phrase used by the author, I noticed a girl. She was bent over two books on the desk in front of her – a big open book that looked like a textbook, and a notebook. She was carefully studying the text in the textbook, and she was carefully making notes in the notebook. My thoughts turned (naturally) to myself. She looked kind of like me. Not really, but she was tall and dark with dark eyebrows. I saw in her a version of what I should be. Someone who uses his time at school not just to do what what he does anyway at home for fun, but one who takes school as an opportunity to humble himself to carefully, and with discipline, learn from books and teachers. Hers was probably a trigonometry textbook.
I took two or three notes in my notebook of quotes from my book that had caught my attention.
As I walked back to my car, I hardly needed E.B. White’s encouragement to delight in the fair earth’s beauty. Snow was falling and the wind blew it around on the sidewalk in a way reminiscent of a flock of birds or swarm of bugs who suddenly go this way and that way. I walked down from the north end of campus, down past the music building, all the way down to my car at the south end of the parking lot. I was parked about as close to Oregon and home as could be. I put my guitar in the car. I put my briefcase with my heavy load of books in the car. Where were my keys? They usually dwelt in my briefcase, but I could not see them there. I quickly checked my pockets. Not there. My briefcase again. Alas, no! I got out of the car and crouched in the swirling snow bees. Not on the pavement under the car nor next to the car. I went over it all again. I looked in the ignition. I checked my four trouser pockets, my shirt pocket, my four jacket pockets, my four coat pockets and even my two false vest pockets.
At last I decided to retrace my steps to the library. I prayed nobody would steal my guitar and headed back across the campus with my eyes scanning the ground and my hands cycling through my 13 lucky pockets. I felt my brother’s cell phone in one of them, but what I needed was the key. I stopped in at the classroom where my guitar class had been, but no key did I see. I got to the library. Now came the hard part. I had to expose my incompetence to a library worker. I did not want it to be the Russian lady who had just helped me get a library card and had checked out my book. She had seemed happy to help me then, but I had better not test our friendship by seeking help the second time. I thought I had made a reasonably good impression – why spoil it.
I do not think that a beggar really wants to become an individual person to the people he begs from. He would rather get some change from one man one day and another the next. Who wants to fill the shoes of the despicable Mr. Wimpy, an inveterate beggar among his established circle of friends- over and over again telling Popeye ” I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”? I imagine this shyness is one reason social welfare programs are popular. There is some anonymity. You do not have to look your benefactor in the face every time you want some help, (just the occasional lecture down at the financial aid office). Another side of it is that oftentimes beggars have amazing stories of extraordinary calamities and outlandish unfortunate occurrences that have struck them like lightning from out of nowhere, and, though Roy Sullivan of the National parks service was struck by lightning 7 times, in general you will have better success telling 1,000,000 different people once about your one in million likelihood lighting strike than telling one person 1,000,000 times.
Once a couple came to the church where my dad is Pastor and told us all about how they had come out from Delaware because a friend said that he could get the husband some guitar students, but that really the rascal had just wanted to make a play for the wife. They eagerly shared detail upon detail of their background with us and said they needed help getting back to Delaware. Dad helped them materially, preached the good news of Jesus to them, and made it clear to them that what he was doing or saying was not dependent upon them convincing him that they were telling him the truth. Dad’s been on the road himself and has heard a lot of stories.
It was a little awkward for me, and maybe for them too, when, a couple of months later, the wife approached me while I was serving food at the Union Gospel Mission. They had never gone to Delaware. I had served them at the mission just a few days after they came to the church for help and, I think, a few other times in the intervening time. They never seemed to recognize me. The wife came up to me and asked if I knew a Pastor who could help them. I replied that yes, my Dad was pastor of Peninsula Baptist in North Portland and they knew where to find him because (as she continued to look puzzled) they had been there before. She seemed somewhat confused and went and talked to her man. A minute later she came back and clarified what had happened concerning the plans they had told us about; they had either gone back to Delaware or part way back, I can’t remember, when he had been called by some guitar students in Oregon who wanted him back. I felt like blushing. Not only was I embarrassed for the lie she was telling, I was insulted by the insinuation therein that I look really dumb. Dad had already told them that he helped them, not based on the truth of what they told him. Still, how do you say, “What I told you last time was mostly lies.” No, she felt she had to preserve that respectable front she had tried to build- “We are not common beggars who go from door to door.”
In the spring of 2014 I took my first college writing course. What a class it was! I thank God for the teacher who led us in reading E.B. White, encouraged us to be sentient and aware of the world of wonders around us, and helped me write college papers that I would find interesting later in my life. The assignment for this essay was “write about a theme from Charlotte’s Web”. I chose humility.
The Valley of Humility: or, The Lady Behind the Desk
A few months back, I listened to a speaker at a conference give a series of speeches which all struck me as being of dubious veracity. He seemed to have great confidence in his rightness, and threw out many statistics and numbers to back him up, but in general his numbers impressed me as either too vague -“In 10 years, 70% of men in their 20’s won’t be grown up.”- or too specific- “In 30 years the American nuclear family will no longer exist.” – to be saying something true. I feel bad, in a way, attacking the speeches of a fellow prophet of doom; I think that the slippery slope is a well documented phenomenon, and that when people have thought that things can not get any worse, things have. I do want to grow up before I am 30, but I do not want to grow up to be like him, that is, I want to make whatever case I am making carefully and convincingly, sounding confident, but only in humility. I do not want to to speak or write as if it is my automatic right to be considered right all the time by all who hear me. I want people to accept the point I am making because it is backed up with a whole army of solid arguments.
When I talked with him afterward I spoke with a meek tone and gently broke it to him that I thought he had not solidly argued his opinion that Shakespeare was one of the great corrupters of our society. When in response to my challenge he told me, “You need to be more humble,” I was a little surprised. I had not heard him give this edifying advice to any of those whom I had heard profusely thanking him for his speeches. It was a special message for me.
“[A] man can always discuss a thing more intelligently and honestly if he knows he is not being taken seriously.” – E.B. White
I hope that you will not take me seriously, for I am going to write about myself.
I can only be honest about myself if I think you will read it as self deprecating humour and think better of me (for having the charming tendency to under-rate myself) as opposed to the inevitable outcome of reading this as perfectly truthful.
I shall begin with Tuesday night. The setting: the Physical Science 101 lab. Behold me among the students – every muscle that aids focus tensed, desperately putting numbers into my huge ancient office calculator, barely keeping up with the class. I hoped that if any of my classmates noticed that I was not an adept at science they would also notice that I was carrying a violin case and assume that, at the expense of my science studies, I had become a great musician.
After lab I drove to orchestra. Trying to avoid last week’s mistake of exiting the freeway an exit or two late and having to wander about a bit, I exited the freeway an exit or two early and had to wander about a bit. Still, I got there on time. At orchestra I sat in the back of my section marveling at the other violinists who looked like they were successfully playing 16th note chromatic scales in 7th position at quarter note = 132. So much for music being where I had prowess. If music is not my thing what is? Physical Science? During the first violin sectional time the principal gave us some fingering suggestions (that is, which finger you use to get a particular note). I did not catch them all. Was I humble enough to ask her to repeat the fingerings that I had missed? No, and as we practiced these sections faster and faster I became less and less able to fake it. I bragged to one of the other fiddlers there that I was going to go home and write a paper. As hard as science and and music are, I can write a paper. I save writing homework for last because it is easiest.
All my Physical Science homework for that week was due that night at midnight. After driving home from Vancouver (the long way; the I-5 South bridge was closed) I messed about for a while and then got cracking on my homework. In the last assignment that I worked on before midnight struck, I got to watch a simple animation of a ladybug riding a skateboard on a parabola shaped track. Not the mountain kind – the valley kind. When the bug was high on the slope she had a lot of Potential Energy, when she reached the bottom of the valley it had all turned to Kinetic energy. Then as she climbed the other slope the Kinetic energy turned back into Potential Energy.
Speaking of valleys, valleys have long represented humility. There is an old song with the lyric “As I went down in the valley to pray…” What is it talking about? I think it is talking about going into the valley of humility to pray, because you have to be humble to pray right.
“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 138:6)
In the spiritual “There’s a meetin’ here Tonight,” are these words:
“I went down in the valley one day, met old Satan on my way.
What do you reckon old Satan did say?
He said turn back young man, you’re too young to pray.”
What’s Satan saying in the song? “You’re young! You’re strong! You’re beautiful! You’re a god! What are doing down in this valley of humility? What are you doing calling out for help like a common beggar?”
Midnight arrived. I began writing my paper. I was exploring the two main kinds of humility in Charlotte’s Web. I called the kind of humility that is humble enough to ask for, and receive help, “Wilbur humility” and the kind of humility that helps someone else, not insisting on one’s own pre-eminence in demands for attention or respect for one’s comfort and desires, “Charlotte humility.” It was hitting rather close to home. Did I have any of either?
I made a connection between myself and the bug on the track. The more she falls on one side of the valley the more she climbs the other side. The more of “Wilbur” type humility I had, the more questions I humbled myself to ask, the more meek “I need help” student posture I took on, the better I could humbly serve others as Charlotte did. The more of the one, the more of the other. It seemed like it might be proportional.
As my excitement about my thesis was reaching a fever pitch, so was I. I was getting sick. Finally I realized that my confidence in my strength to stay up and write this paper were misplaced. Like the tree the man leans on that bends and breaks in the old song ‘The Water is Wide,’ my stricken body could not bear me through the work required to finish the assignment.
Wednesday early, early in the morning my little sister came to the side of my bed of pain: “Caleb. Alberta is sick and the van has a flat tire. You need to call Grandma and ask to borrow her car and drive me to school.” Here was a great opportunity for a humble servant to step up to the plate, get dressed and, not thinking about his own comfort, wake Grandma with a phone call, trek through the antarctic winds to Grandmother’s house get her car, and so help a damsel in distress. I knew someone who was a humble servant. “Talk to mom,” I said. “I’m sick.”
That afternoon I got up. It was supposed to have been the first day of rehearsals for the children’s choir I direct. Should I cancel for sickness? Ah, children’s choir. I like simple beautiful songs. I like the children in my choir. I like being able to say something when asked if have a job. The other day at science lab a girl asked me where I worked that I dressed so fancy. She was not impressed when it came out I am just a jobless dandy.
Directing children’s choir is something I think I am good at and the rehearsals are held next door to where I live, so I decided to stumble on over. We had fun for the first little while, but when I had to figure out a transposition to make a certain song fit the children’s voices better, I became totally confused. I felt everyone’s relaxed, enjoying class feeling and respect for their teacher feeling draining away. I wasted many minutes of many lives during the latter part of that rehearsal.
I can partly blame being very sick. But why had I not humbled myself to learn, when studying music theory, to carefully analyze a problem? If I had humbled myself and carefully studied modulation and intervals then, I could better bless those whom I teach now. I felt like one of those whom Oscar Wilde was talking about when he said: “Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.” It is as if I just want to run to the front of the choir and take the applause for what others can do because I could not get applause with any of my own skills, sort of like Avery Arable, who did no work for Wilbur, even threatened Wilbur’s life when he hunted Charlotte, but made himself the center of attention when Wilbur got his prize.
(This is what that phrase “less than nothing” that they discuss in Charlotte’s Web really means: nothing is when all you add up to is dust and ashes, less than nothing is when you are positively bad; you add up to a negative sum.)