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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(October 18, 2009)

Acquiring Humility
by Abbot John

We Zen priests are rank with advice about humility. Stick a pin in us and the wisdom squirts out fast and far enough to call a plumber. It's all the sticker can do to get out of the way. Which is why I, a man who was a natural born humble kind of guy, so easily attained my station in life.

Recently, my father's illness brought the family together for a bedside reunion. Since he was hospitalized at a place equidistant to all of us, we, my brothers and I, brought our wives. There isn't much to talk about in a hospital setting and once my dad drifted comfortably to sleep, we happened to notice that the weather was beautiful. We wondered how the local golf course looked and what the sun was doing to the fairway. Curiosity, being what it is, we left our wives to their shopping chores and got our clubs which we all just happened to bring with us.

My brothers and I have a love-hate thing on the course. They've been playing longer, but they've never gotten a hole in one. (A year or so ago, as a guest player at a country club, I got a hole in one.) By way of a left-handed compliment, they like to remind me that it is better to be lucky than good. I let it pass. In my heart I know that when Tiger gets a hole in one, people smile without surprise; but when a duffer like me gets one, it's time for the Tall Ships to visit New York harbor.

Off to the course we went, at 9:30 AM. Without warm-up we just made the first hole in time. I whacked my tee shot right, poked it back into the fairway and then hit my third over the green, finally arriving in four and then two putting for a double bogey six. The second hole was a par three and, while my brothers were beginning to give me a hard time about looking for signs in all the wrong places, I stroked my tee shot 162 yds straight onto the green and into the hole. My second hole-in-one. I was jumping up and down and could barely hear my brothers congratulate me through their clenched molars.

I couldn't wait until I got back and could tell everyone over dinner about how getting one of those miracles in one's life is something one never forgets and that getting two of them is almost unbelievable - and the odds of doing it within a two year span are mathematically incalculable. I practiced sounding humble in victory and, naturally, the anticipation of telling my wife, et al, about my good fortune interfered a bit with the rest of my game; but I grinned as i filled my card with black squares. The bogeys would vanish as quickly as the morning mist. What was eternal was that moment when I would astound the dinner company.

At the moment, however, things were happening with my son Michael who was about to be deployed to the Middle East. When we got home Mike was on the phone talking to my wife. He was trying to make a polite request of her.

The 82nd Airborne has amassed many victories in its illustrious history. But it has never come up against my wife's maternal blitzkrieg.

A little history: a year or so ago, our website ran a photo of wife and mother Nanci and my son Mchael who had recently joined the 82nd. We therefore developed a modest following among Michael's buddies in the 82nd Airborne. Also, they all liked the "do the dishes" essay I wrote that described the first night jump they had to do. But the real "catch" for them was Nanci. My wife's ebullience at the Fort that day left an impression on everyone within earshot. Michael has, through no fault of his own, or so he claims, been given a nickname which I can't remember at the moment but it has to do with Nanci's constant emails, phone calls and letters to him. I had not realized the extent to which my wife had made him the momma's boy of his platoon. Though he got a lot of ribbing for it, it was all good natured.

Many of the guys like Nanci and find her particularly interesting. A few come from backgrounds that might possibly be more dysfunctional than Michael's. They don't get much mail - a lack which Nanci tries to fill with care packages and cards. A couple of guys have come up with Mike when they been given a week or two leave and instead of going nowhere they come here. The chaos must bring order to their lives. Mike spends most of his time with his wife and son, leaving the guys to be Nanci's substitute sons. She is maternally supercharged and can handle a regiment of vicarious sons. Also, she works for a charity in Jersey that sends care packages to the men and women serving in the desert - (and she sends all the extras she can collect down to Ft.Bragg for dispersion.)

Mike takes a lot of heat whenever Nanci telephones during exercises or general times when they are marshaled together.

One particular incident gave Mike and his mother a legendary pairing. His unit had to "go dark" for a month as part of their training. The whole brigade was sent to a rugged outdoor installation for survival training which amounted to 30 days in a camp that was set up like a small town in Iraq. Mike said they had some people from Hollywood make up the sets and they had sand dunes, houses, and even people who spoke Arabic populating this town. All the soldiers could carry with them was what they would be allowed to have when they officially deployed. Part of the exercise was that Mike was not allowed to tell anyone where he would be or what he would be allowed to carry with him - which did not include a cell phone or his laptop. If the 82nd Airborne thought that this would in any way deter Nanci, all I can say is "Hah!"

After three days of not being able to reach Michael she went into panic mode. Michael had been living out of his boots for about a week in this mock up of Falluja when his Sarge came to get him and took him into this tent where a Colonel took a cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to Mike, saying, "Call your mom and tell her you're in the Army and going though some training and that you're fine and will get back to her in about 30 days. After that hit the deck and give me thirty." Mike called and briefly pleaded with his his mom not to call him or anyone else and that he loved her and she could take that on faith.

The dark weeks passed, ending on the day we had gathered at my father's bedside.

As we returned from the golf course, Mike was on the phone with Nanci. She was squirming with delight at everything he said, even when he mentioned that the episode in the Colonel's office had cost him about 600 push-ups overall.

I put my ear to the phone as he was telling her about the new razzing he was getting. His unit gets a regular little pep talk. The sergeant demands to know what they're fighting for, and everyone shouts the patriotic answer, and who they're fighting for and everyone shouts the answer, and why they're fighting, and so on, and the Sarge would go through the list and then finally he'd shout, "And who's Mikey fighting for?" and everybody yells back "His momma".

After the call ended I vaguely remember muttering, "I got a hole in one today" and seeing my wife look through me momentarily as if I were speaking in tongues. Her eyes had filled with tears. "Mikey's fighting for his momma!" she squeaked. "Did you hear? Mikey's fighting for his momma!" She was crying so hard her sobs of joy could be heard back on that 19th hole where maybe there were still a few duffers who cared enough about the game to describe that 3 par event in glowing terms. But where I was at that moment, that hole-in-one was worthless information. I watched my wife and suddenly felt the crush of humility.

Nanci still cries every time she tells the story; and now she can add that she texts Michael early in the morning and that he responds without rousing his buddies' notice.

My advice to our sangha is unequivocal: Getting the things you wish for and taking great pride in your worldly acquisitions do not matter in the long run. Nothing you achieve for yourself can give you half the satisfaction you experience when you share someone else's happiness. Win or lose, succeed or fail, the things in life that are important are private, interior things... not like the way you feel when you can boast about scoring a hole in one, but when you see your wife cry with a mother's joy.. and you know you've got a gal beside you whose maternal instinct and chutzpah are more than a match for the 82nd Airborne.

Now... if she were drafted and sent to Kabul....

Here are some pics of Mike, his wife and son, and some of the guys in his unit.

Michael and his son.
Michael Puetz and his son.
Humming Bird
Michael, his wife, son.
Michael Puetz, with his wife and son.
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Michael Puetz, aboard an MRAP.
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne
Humming Bird
Photo credit: 82nd Airborne

Humming Bird