If you haven't noticed yet, I tend to focus on the negative aspects of my life. Bad days at work. Bills I can't pay. Flat tires. Sick kids. That's sort of been the underlying theme of this blog since its very inception. Of course, I try to use humor to deflect my pessimism.
I come by this pessimism naturally. It's a genetic thing. If you were ever part of one of my family get-togethers, you would see it quickly devolve into a litany of old and new gripes. That's how we express our love for each other, it seems. (NOTE: I also tend to employ hyperbole a lot in these posts, so take everything you read with a few grains of salt.)
For example, my father (who is a child of the Great Depression) tends to buy great quantities of very cheap canned goods. Currently, the object of his obsession is an IGA brand of chicken noodle soup. He currently has about 36 cans of the stuff. This afternoon, I overheard my sister saying to my father, "You need to stop buying this shit. Nobody likes it, and I can't see anything else on the shelves." Of course, she said it with great love. My dad: "Fine! I'll just stop shopping for anything!!" My sister: "Just stop buying the cheap crap!!" (Sometimes, I think I'm a member of George's family from Seinfeld.)
That is a normal conversation in my family. Exchanges like this have kept me grounded my whole life. I've learned to never take myself too seriously, because somebody will come along and knock me right off whatever pedestal I happen to be standing on.
That's what today's episode of Classic Saint Marty is all about. Pedestals and remaining humble. I've gone way back this time. This episode first aired about six years ago, right at the start of this blog. Some things simply don't change.
May 24, 2010: Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger
A few days ago, I found out that I've been chosen Employee of the
Month for the health care system I work for. (Yes, I teach college, as
well. Need to pay the bills, people.) This is the same award my coworker
and friend won back in February or March. You may remember my jealous
rant about the subject some weeks ago. This award came as a complete
surprise. Usually, if someone from a department wins Employee of the
Month, the rest of the employees are pretty much screwed for a few
years. So I wasn't expecting even a nomination until the year 2013.
this award puts me in a bit of a quandary. As most of my readers know, I
spend a good deal of my time in this blog complaining about the fact
that some idiot has received some kind of award or blessing that he or
she does not deserve. Now, I am that undeserving idiot. It sort of takes
all of the wind out of my writing sails. How can I be sarcastic and
cutting about myself?
Despite the fact that I have a
blog and write many witty postings about being unrecognized and
unappreciated, I generally feel uncomfortable when people start
complimenting me. I prefer to make people laugh. When I start receiving
praise, it's my nature to deflect or joke about it. I truly don't go out
of my way to draw attention to myself. I like being the funny one, not
the one that's held up as an example of excellence. Generally, if you're
put on a pedestal, someone's sneaking up behind you to knock you off of
it. (Take it from someone who usually does the knocking.)
Simeon Stylites the Younger knows a few things about pedestals. A
disciple of a monk named John, Simeon, from the age of five onward,
lived a good portion of his life on platforms mounted on top of columns.
He did this to avoid distractions in his life of prayer and devotion.
(I'm not sure what he did about certain bodily functions, but I can
imagine he spent a lot of time yelling "Incoming!" or "Look out below!")
When he turned 20, he moved to the mountains, put up another column and
platform, climbed to the top of it, and spent the last 45 years of his
life on top of that perch.
Nobody ever knocked Simeon
off his pedestal. He sat up there, praying, meditating, celebrating mass
(the bishop scaled the column to ordain him), eating, sleeping,
defecating, urinating, and receiving pilgrims. I sort of picture him as
Mel Brooks' 1000-year-old man, dispensing one-liners with a Yiddish
Anyhow, I would prefer to be Mel Brooks than
Simeon. Being on a pedestal is too precarious. One false move and you
could find yourself at the bottom of the column in a big old pile of
But, since I'm up here for the moment, I
might as well make the most of it. Therefore, I've decided to write my
acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I know Employee of
the Month isn't quite in the same league, but I believe in planning
ahead, killing two birds with one stone. So, imagine, if you will, a
lavish hall, long tables set with royal china and crystal. The Permanent
Secretary of the Swedish Academy announces my name. I stand up, check
to make sure my fly is zipped, and then make my way to the podium amid a
fanfare of trumpets. (Honest to God, that's how they do it every year,
more or less.)
Then I speak:
have included two versions of my speech. The first is humorous; the
second, more serious. If you prefer a chuckle, read Version 1. If you
want something a little more somber, read Version 2.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
since I won Employee of the Month several years ago at my place of
work, I've dreamed of winning this prize. Every writer secretly does. We
might say we write for truth or art or grace or understanding. But
really, it's all about moments like this, when you stand before the
world and are acknowledged as the very best, all your peers looking up
to you with blood in their eyes, an envy so intense it causes
constipation in a generation of writers. That is when you know you have
reached the pinnacle, as I have. I am, at this moment, Saint Simeon on
his mountain perch, evacuating myself on the less-talented masses below.
want to thank the members of the Swedish Academy for finally coming to
their senses, recognizing a talent that is unparalleled, a talent
Biblical in power and truth. I am humbled by the company I am now a part
of: Hemingway, Faulkner, Heaney, Shaw, Lessing, Yeats, and all of those
foreigners whose names I can't pronounce. I know, in years to come,
younger writers will compare their works to mine and realize how much
they fall short. That is as it should be.
The world applauds the wisdom of your decision that culminates in this great hall tonight. I applaud your good taste. Thank you.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
have had much grace in my life. I have been graced by a beautiful wife.
I have been graced by beautiful children. I have been graced by family
and friends who have supported me, carried me through difficult times,
danced with me in joyful times. And I have been graced with a love of
words, of language, of the transformative and healing power of poetry.
Catholic saint Simeon Stylites the Younger spent almost 60 years of his
life sitting on top of a platform balanced on a column. He put himself
in this dizzying position to eliminate worldly distractions, to bring
himself closer to creation and the Creator. I find myself balanced on a
similar pinnacle tonight, gazing down from this prestigious vantage into
the faces of people I cherish and admire.
I am humbled by the
company you have placed me in, and I am humbled by the faith you have
placed in my palms. I will eventually come down from this height, either
gracefully or violently, but I will be sustained, lifted up by this
Thank you to the members of the Swedish Academy. Toni
Morrison, upon receiving this award, asked everyone present "to share
what is for me a moment of grace." Like Simeon, I feel as though I have
been lifted up to touch the face of the eternal. Thank you.