Debbie got out her trumpet and sat down to play with the group of old people. The high school junior had been invited to be a part of the annual tradition in which some of these old geezers had participated for twice as long as she had been alive. To say that she was a little nervous would be an understatement. A time or two, she thanked them timorously for asking her to be part of the little brass ensemble, as if she wasn’t sure she belonged there. The diffidence in her tone led more than one of the old guys to wonder if she would be up to the task. After all, in a few short weeks, this group would be playing to a packed house of nearly a thousand people, not once, but on three consecutive evenings. They needed a competent player, someone who could be counted on to hit the notes and to blend with the ensemble. Perhaps, this wasn’t such a good choice, after all. Then the young lady placed the mouthpiece to her lips and all doubts were removed.
The girl wasn’t a show off, she had no intention of flaunting her abilities, but you can’t hide a talent like that. Quietly and inconspicuously, she simply played her part. The smooth, mellow tone flowed from the silver horn as if there were no effort involved. Whether the sounds coming out of the horn were in the low range or up to the highest reaches of the instrument’s limits, the control exercised over the tone and volume were almost beyond belief. She actually changed keys when the printed music did! Her ability to play with the ensemble wasn’t in question beyond the first page or two of the music they covered. This girl could play! The performances were approached with confidence by the whole group and the result was completely satisfactory, even, it appeared, from the audiences’ point of view. As the last musical evening came to an end, she repeated once more, without a hint of ego, “I’m really glad that you were willing to let me play with you.”
I heard a few weeks later that Debbie had been selected to be part of the All-State band. First Band, First Chair! The epitome of placement for a high school musician in the state! She was better than every other high school trumpet player in the entire state. I congratulated her the next time I saw her. She ducked her head and said quietly, “I think they must have made a mistake in scoring.” I knew better. She honestly didn’t believe that she was that good. When the tryouts in her senior year came along twelve months later, with the same results, I reminded her of her words. “You do know that this proves that they were right last year?” I queried. “I guess so,” she replied. “I’m still not sure, though.” She wasn’t acting. The young lady really didn’t want to claim the title of best trumpet player in the state. She just did what she was created to do quietly and contentedly. I can only look at the young lady, wise beyond her years, and be amazed.
I’m amazed because I remember a young man thirty-some years before who tried out for All Region Band and made it! The fact that he was seated eighth chair in the Horn section of the first band didn’t dampen his spirits at all. Everyone within earshot knew of his exploits. The young man was the “eighth best Horn player in the region!” There was no end to the braggart’s arrogance. Again and again, he repeated the news of his own triumph to anyone who would listen. Soon enough, everyone had heard about how good the young man believed himself to be and how the result proved it. Eighth chair! In the region! Not the state, but just the region of the state. I’m old enough now to be exempt from embarrassment at the teenager’s insolence, but not so old that I don’t still recognize that the foolishness of youth frequently follows one into his adult years. I still struggle with this same problem, hoping for the approval of my friends and family, as well as all who are acquainted with me. It seems likely to be a lifelong battle. Oh! If I recall aright, the young man flubbed a line in his music at the performance of the All Region Band that year. Another reminder that pride goes before a fall. Sometimes the lessons to be learned have to be assimilated the hard way.
A friend today posted a (by now) familiar verse online. “Let a stranger praise you and not you, yourself.” I will attest that they are not easy words to live by. We are, it seems, a boastful breed; seeking ways to exalt ourselves. I recognize that the problem I struggle with is not familiar to me only, but is common to most humans. Maybe we can help each other to do better. I hope you’ll be gentle with me. But, I trust that you will remind me when I need a subtle (or even, not-so-subtle) nudge.
The amazing thing is that there is a quiet beauty in humility, while arrogance always seems to be stridently ugly. I’d like to be a little prettier than I am. The makeover is taking a good bit longer than I had anticipated. I’ll keep working on it.
“Humility is the only certain defense against humiliation.”
“Do not act out of selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility, think of others as being better than yourselves.”