It was pride that changed angels into devils, wrote St. Augustine, and it is humility that makes men as angels. I have leaned a lot about pride and humility in my life, and in recent years became painfully aware that I had become my own joke.
One of my favorite jokes was about men, and it went like this: the only men I truly loved, I used to say, were those men who had either been tortured as children, or humiliated as adults. This was a self-deprecating joke, I knew, because I was not the kind of man I loved.
I think it was a signal to people, especially women, that I knew I was broken, I think I was asking for mercy in my own tortured way.
I was, in fact, tortured as a child, but it took my utter humiliation as an adult to shatter my pride and set me on the path to humility. Breakdowns can be a gift – we get to recover, if we choose. I set out to find the angels.
And humility, like empathy, I have learned, are the highest aspirations of any human, especially men.
"This is the very perfection of man" wrote Augustine, to find out his own imperfections." This is the time for that, it seems. Men's perfections have never been more on display. All of the men I know are seeing them, and those who can't see them are feeling the wrath of God.
I found this to be true. For many years I had lived without love or human connection. When I met Maria, and we finally fell in love – no easy task for either of us – she told me she loved me because I was the first man in her life that she could talk to, she had dreamed of someone like me, and in fact, had conjured me.
This stunned me, because it suggested I was finally beginning to become the kind of man I wanted to be, a man who cold listen, feel and hear. I didn't dare to believe it. But love is a powerful thing, it broke down the walls.
Women, I have come to understand, seem more often to grasp the value of empathy and humility, and it should be obvious to everyone who can see and breathe by now why this is so.
When I think of some of our political leaders and of the parade of sex devils we have endured this autumn, I see fractured people who lack both empathy and any kind of humility. To dominate the weak and the vulnerable, in politics, or the workplace, in policy or sex personal behavior is to be arrogant and prideful, to be devoid of humility or any kind of compassion.
The revolution that began when I was young has exploded again and is on the march. The defenders and enablers are clustered at the parapets, throwing rocks and spears, but they seem hopelessly doomed to me. I guess these things just take time. The old ways of men are coming apart, right before us, every single day.
When I endured my worst humiliations, I began reading St. Augustine, along with Thomas Merton and Joseph Campbell, and I read more than once that beauty grows in you to the extent that love grows, because charity itself is the soul's beauty. For some years, I sought out God, while I never found him, I did find many of the men who created and nourished the idea of him.
When you are broken, you are open, everything is a gift.
I saw that love had died in me, and charity along with it, and when I refused to live a loveless life, I opened my heart to love and found it, charity became the beauty of my soul.
I had become my own joke, I had brought my own joke to life. In order to become the kind of men who could love or be truly loved, I had to come apart and try to put myself together again. I will say without complaint that it has been a long and very hard road, and I know now that I will never come to the end of it, the challenge is to stay on the path.
I don't tell that joke any longer, it seems false and contrived to me now. It is not funny.
If the very perfection of a man is to find and accept his own imperfections, then I am on the path. Humility is a gate, not a door, and when it opens, there is a whole other world to see.