Catholic · Family · Identity

On Humility and the Mini-Van

Humility is not cowardice. Meekness is not weakness. Humility and meekness are indeed spiritual powers. Swami Sivananda (1)

Dear Susan,

We didn’t get Sluggo, our dusty brown mini-van, for me or for the kids. We got it because, after mom’s 6th stroke, she couldn’t step up high enough to get into my old car when I ferried her to our house and various doctors’ appointments. I remember the moment I broke it to my husband that we needed a mini-van – like I was telling him about a dire medical diagnosis.  I even suggested we lease, because mom’s situation was so precarious. Nevertheless, we bought Sluggo and the kids fell in love.

Sluggo rode so close to the ground that mom didn’t even have to transfer her weight to slide in to the accommodating bucket seat. There was plenty of room for the dogs and kids and a walker or wheelchair, and everything opened and closed automatically.  I learned to turn and park a car that handled like a dachshund. Going up Austin’s rocky hills, I would sometimes look down for a slot in the floor that I could put my feet through like Fred Flintstone, just to help out a little bit. As predicted, within six months, mom suffered another stroke, which debilitated her to the point that she could not leave her assisted living center. However, Sluggo and his pink slip were not going anywhere.  Thus, began my three-year study in meekness: the humility of the mini-van.


I am not really car person and have owned everything from Fords and Toyotas to Mercedes and BMWs without caring too much. For someone who tends to be car-pragmatic, I was bothered more than I should have been. At a minimum, the mini-van is tolerated as a family necessity. At most, it is reviled as the ultimate loss of coolness/youth/freedom. It was one thing to know that I was none of those things; it was quite another to drive around a visible badge attesting to this fact. There also came a certain loss of individuality. There were so many of my exact car on the road, that I found myself attempting to open someone else’s car on a frequent basis. It was jarring to realize this was my car.  I walked out of the fitness center one morning to the visual shock of a bright orange Bentley parked next to Sluggo. Those are just two things that should never be seen together.

The reactions of others were surprising. At a meeting I attended, a gentleman I respect walked with me out to the parking lot, and, when he saw Sluggo, his face went into a grimace of disapproval. “You drive this?” he asked, as though I was unlocking the door to a wagon of medical waste. On the flip side, there was our experience with the lovely valet at the hip cocktail joint you and I went to here in Houston. When we pulled up in Sluggo, I jokingly said he should leave the van up front with all the sleek luxury cars parked there. The valet laughed, but when we returned, that is exactly what he had done! Sluggo had his place among the Bentleys again. The valet then literally went into the street to clear the way for us, so we could safely pull out into Houston’s traffic maelstrom. He knew Sluggo needed the help. Now that young man, as my mother would have said, just earned stars on his crown in heaven.

Driving Sluggo was an excellent check on my ego and selfishness. It was like driving the Litany of Humility (arguably one of the toughest prayers out there).  I have to admit, it was not all bad. Sluggo was extremely practical and comfortable. It got great gas mileage. The kids had all kinds of entertainment options and the seats went all the way back so they could nap easily on long car trips, instead of fight. Bless their hearts. Sluggo changed me, the way I saw myself, and the way I saw others, for the better. I finally understood the power of meekness. Embracing what you have been given, even when you don’t want it, gives you unexpected freedom and power. Sluggo also taught me to want the humble, not run from it. In a recent address Pope Francis said: “From the simplicity of mothers, of grandmothers, this is the cornerstone. We are not princes, sons of princes or counts or barons. We are simple people, of common folk. And this is why we draw near with this simplicity to those who are simple, to those who suffer the most: the sick, children, the abandoned elderly, the poor, everyone,” he said. This sounds like the Pope could be referring to the average contents of a mini-van.

litany of humility
Ouch! A tough prayer can be beautiful. This version is designed by the adorable Ali Hoffman of LittleCornerDesigns  and is available on her etsy shop for a mere $10. Buy it here:

I appreciate this lesson even more this week as we come to the Gospel of the Beatitudes. The Pope has referred to the Beatitudes as steps that take us towards God.  Many of us struggle with is “Blessed are the meek.” It is the mini-van of the Beatitudes.  It does not fit with our modern, American sensibility. As J. Paul Getty famously said, “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights.” Contrast the American view to the Pope’s: “Meekness of heart is not foolishness [but rather] the capacity to be deep and to understand the greatness of God, and worship Him.”

I have learned that so much of our relationship with God is our choice. We often underestimate how hard it is to meekly follow His will. You often have to give up a lot of cool points. How will we react to what God calls us for? Will we be grimacing in the parking lot or will we be the helpful valet? In case there is any doubt, I am pretty sure God is a big tipper.




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