Remembering my humbler moments helped me deflate my monster ego, which, before I knew it, could blow up like the Michelin Man, and look just as ridiculous. Ego could sneak up on me completely unaware, which was always hard for me to believe.

Humble Moment #1

I had a silent neighbor who I got along with because we didn’t speak, just nodded and smiled occasionally, or rather, I grinned and she squinted at me. Once I overheard her tell a workman outside I was really nice, so I didn’t believe she hated me. She walked fast with her whole body pitched forward, as if she caught herself just in time to keep from falling with each step. I assumed we’d slowly become closer over the years, but she glanced away whenever I saw her.

I found her peculiar and I wasn’t the only one. A friend who spent a lot of time on repairs outside my townhouse interacted with her more in one week than I had in a year: his conclusion, she’s weird.

Our houses had a common wall and I was grateful for her quietude, but, for the most part, over time, without being aware of it, I’d formed a negative opinion about her. If I’d stopped for a moment to have some compassion, I might have concluded, instead, that she probably landed somewhere “on the spectrum,” as we said nowadays about someone who had Asperger’s Syndrome. But I hadn’t dwelled on my neighbor; I couldn’t even remember her name. So negative thoughts about her festered at a subliminal level.

Our two patios shared a five-foot stucco fence, high enough for privacy but low enough that I had a full view of her outdoor territory. She had made it cozy, filled with roses, greenery, patio furniture with a shade umbrella. She favored garden gnomes of all sizes, about twenty-five of them, to a curious, but not obnoxious degree.

I regarded at my deck – barren. I kept a single row of bushes trimmed way down so I could enjoy a view of the golf course. In eight years, I hadn’t gotten around to buying patio furniture and never went outside until, cursing, I noticed the hedges needed trimming.

All at once, I envied my neighbor and admired her ability, far superior to mine, to create a comfy outdoor home where she enjoyed spending a lot of time. With my negative opinions about her, I’d considered myself superior to her. My face flamed with inner embarrassment.

Score one for my Chronicle of Humble Moments. I had a lot to learn from her about creating a sweet, inviting nest in nature. Maybe a good first step at making amends for my inner negativity would be to compliment her and then buy a garden gnome.


Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.

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