March 9, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Where we stand in the grand scheme of things

Cynthia DewesIf you ever feel the need of a humbling experience as part of your Lenten penance, try googling your family name on the Web.

When I did this recently out of curiosity—and snowbound cabin fever—I was amazed at the literally thousands of references to “Dewes.”

My husband’s family always thought they had a unique name and that they originally came from Germany. On the other hand, the name Dewes is mentioned in the historic Doomsday Book in England. The googling proved that the Dewes ancestry is not only German or English, but probably multi-

national, multiethnic and just plain mutt.

There’s a Francis Dewes Mansion in Chicago, which had numerous Google citings. We think Francis is not a relative, durn! There’s a prominent New Zealand PhD. named Kate like our daughter. A German Peter Dewes, also the name of one of our sons, is mentioned frequently auf Deutsch. There’s even a Maori Cathy Dewes, same name as our niece, in the Australian contingent.

There’s a John Dewes who’s a Target executive, and a William Dewes who’s apparently a criminal, neither one any relation to our sons of those names. There are many Dewes’s with first names I could never pronounce, let alone spell or figure out their nationality.

So any ideas we may have cherished about our uniqueness or special standing in the human race are now toast. We are reduced to being the common (wo)man.

This is but one example of our humble status as human beings. How often we can forget that, especially in our present culture of self-importance and self-gratification. It’s tempting to become impressed with our own beauty or cleverness or talents. Secretly, we may think we’re the best at this or that, the only person able to do the job, the one to whom others should turn.

It’s a good thing we have Lent to bring us back to reality, at least once a year. Because then we’re encouraged to take time to assess our human condition and improve it.

Being humble does not mean we are pathetic, passive creatures, however. God made us in his/her own likeness and gave each of us unique gifts to use and enjoy in life. It’s our job to figure out what these gifts are and how best to serve God and each other with them.

It’s only honest to admit to ourselves that we’re beautiful, if we are that, or athletic or brainy or good with our hands. Identifying our gift does not necessarily lead to vanity or pride.

Rather, if we are beautiful, we can use that gift to reflect God’s beauty, and to encourage others to display their own inner beauty. If we’re athletic, perhaps we may inspire those who watch our feats or set an example for young people to improve themselves and enjoy healthy competition. If we’re intelligent, we should use our smarts to share our insights into God’s good creation.

No matter what our gift is, God has a plan for it in the world. Even the chronically ill can serve as models of patience and hope or the handicapped as examples of human courage and possibility. Children can teach us innocence and old people about serenity.

All this is true because real humility lies in finding what God asks of us, and quietly answering the call.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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