Off to college I went. The year was 1990 and I was just shy of my 18th birthday. In spite of a treacherous final year of highschool where I was absent more than attending, I managed to wiggle my way into this private university in Florida and get a loan package to pay for it.
Part of the loan package was student employment, and my job was in the cafeteria. It required me to show up 5 days a week at 5 a.m. and slice sandwich meat and mix salad dressing for that days’ lunch crowd. I was then to return at lunch and make sandwiches out of the meat that had been sliced in the morning for the several hundred other students who did not need a loan package or a job in the cafeteria to pay for their college education.
It wasn’t that I had anything against working. Those of you who know me will attest to the fact that if there’s anything I believe in…it’s hard work. It’s just that I thought (and I have thought many many times since then, even well into sobriety) that I deserved to be doing something a little more important and little less naaaaasty. That’s my grandiosity talking.
Each morning when that alarm would go off at 4:47 a.m., I’d roll out of bed (if I happened to have gone to bed) slip into my Chuck Taylors, and roll out to the cafeteria looking like death warmed over. I would stand behind that counter at the meat slicer with all the smells of salami and mustard, mayonnaise and ham, pickles and onions, and my hangover and I would burn inside with resentment.
To be completely disclosing, there were a lot of things going on with me at the time. My mother had recently attempted suicide. I was deeply entrenched in my addiction. And there was no way that I was going to be able to consistently show up for anything…even a job. But among the other things I was seriously lacking at the time in my life, I could have used a good dose of humility.
Humility, I have learned, gets a bad rap in our world. There’s this idea that it means we have to lower ourselves, or quiet our beliefs. In fact, the real concept of humility is quite opposite. It’s about being right-sized and finding our place as a worker among workers; a friend among friends.
It was hard for me to make sandwiches for kids who came through that line at lunch time. I judged each one of them as having it better than I did. It was equally hard to show up anywhere at 5 in the morning when you’ve been drinking all night. That’s just a natural result of being an alcoholic. So I stopped going to the job. (At the same time, I also stopped attending class regularly.) And I waited for them to kick me out…which they did, promptly.
My solutions have always been worse than my problems. That’s the rub of an alcoholic mind. Humility battles that. It lets other ideas into the picture. It allows me to ask for help. Run something by you before I make a decision that might negatively impact me. It lets me see you as human, and myself as human, and us both as children of a loving God beyond our understanding who is busy at work in our lives. One of the greatest experiences in my sobriety has been learning that I can be happy being one among you. It’s just another way that we do this thing together.