I was making my way from a classroom to a dorm on a picturesque June night in Ave Maria, Florida. The only thing that really makes a June night in Florida picturesque (which I’m using as a literary cover-up for bearable) is that every once in awhile, when you’re close to the coast, there’s a gentle breeze that can mask the fact that your innards are boiling. I was at our annual summer training that lasts five weeks and I was taking a walk with a friend of mine, sipping on a mojito, talking about life and faith and whatnot. As soon as we opened the door to our dorm and was slapped in the face by the deep-freezer levels of the AC I immediately began to rush our leisurely conversation, moving rapidly to the door to my hallway, trying to blend in and sneak away without anyone noticing us walking in.
See, I’m a sweaty guy and God saw it fit that I spend a good portion of my life in the living embodiment of Purgatory for a person with such a condition, Florida. And even more than that that I head farther south for the hottest portion of the summer.
The mojito was enjoyable and the conversation was pleasant up until that point when we entered the florescent light of the dorms and my hidden shame was thrown into sharp relief. And of course the most unawkward thing is to point out the awkwardness on full display. I’ve gone over this spiel many times when people notice or ridicule my overactive sweat glands. Basically it boils down to “Hey, I’m a sweaty guy. It’s uncomfortable for everyone so let’s wrap this up and get going our separate ways.”
Only this time my companion nodded, obviously caught up in either some disjointed thought or was in deep contemplation of what I’d just revealed. And then he kept right on talking about whatever we were talking about before. I can’t quite recall how he seamlessly shifted subjects, but after a few exchanges he started in with, “I read this one book ‘The Pale King’ by David Foster Wallace and there was this kid in it who had a problem with excessive sweating. He kept sweating and when he wasn’t actually sweating he was thinking about when he would start and who would notice. It eventually made him break down mentally and I think he ended up killing himself or going crazy in the end. So [pregnant pause, casual, dismissive shrug] there’s that.” And then he turned and walked away laughing as I stood looking at my dorm room door. And after a few seconds of confused chuckling I broke out into a fit of my own laughter.
I can’t remember exactly where the quote came from, but I do remember the gist of a homily a priest gave some time ago that stuck with me. It was something to the effect of, “I’m glad that I’m just as smart or good-looking or charismatic as I am, because if I was even just a little bit more I might lose my soul. I have just enough for salvation and no more.” And for me this all culminates in sweat. Sweat is the driving force in my unwanted search for greater humility.
Because honestly, I walk into a room after a jaunt in the tropics or a drive in my car when the AC is on the fritz (which is annually) and I throw myself at the mercy of those around me- whether I receive comfort, jeering or those who would mercifully just let it be and move on. If I were a little bit drier (this sentence is almost the strangest one in this entire post) I wouldn’t have something to constantly remind me of how much I am in need of mercy, whether it be God’s mercy or a little social mercy from those who have to dwell in my uncomfortable ambience from time to time. I think this revelation may have been why I found myself laughing and receiving all of God’s grace and joy in that weird moment in Ave Maria, FL. And after all, I think we can all relate the the ever-constant experience of being the one _______ person in the room and everyone notices. Maybe a little high school- style arrested development is at play in all of our psyches and there’s always the temptation to succumb to the wave of anxiety constantly ebbing and flowing over our delicate little hearts. But why not chose to ride that wave instead of let it drown us? Why not baptize it?
“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart…” The humility of Jesus!... What a lesson for you who are a poor earthenware vessel! He- always merciful- has raised you up, and made the light of the sun of grace shine upon your baseness, which has now been freely exalted. And you, how often you have covered your pride under a cloak of dignity of justice…! And how many chances to learn from the Master you have wasted by not knowing how to supernaturalize them! (St. Josemaria Escriva, Furrow, 261)
So [pregnant pause, dismissive shrug], there’s that.