shrek, detroit, nana, and other thoughts on humility

I remember watching the Shrek movie the first time, and thinking Shrek was my kind of guy.  My mother swooned over Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots, and my daughter loved the antics of Eddie Murphy’s Donkey.

But Shrek?  Shrek is a pretty humble guy.  He knows what he likes (his swamp), and what he doesn’t (pretentious prince-thugs).  He has no illusions of grandeur.

I learned to value humility as a wee one.  I remember (once) telling Nana that she needed to stop and put her feet up, take a break from all her work – caring for the garden, baking bread, cooking a roast, digging for clams, knitting mittens, darning socks, cleaning up after the zillion family members trooping in and out, making pickles, hanging laundry out to dry.

Nana laughed and gave me a job to do.  That was how I could help.  The tasks were never-ending, but she never once complained.

She listened to talk-radio while she worked, and was thoroughly literate in current affairs.  I was a book worm, but when I asked Nana about her favourite books, she said she would rather read a recipe book or a knitting pattern.  More to the point, I doubt she had the leisure for fiction.

She didn’t offer advice, unless asked for it.  In conversation, she always had a funny, wise, sometimes-cheeky remark.

I often heard her say, “I don’t want for anything,” in her rich Irish brogue.

Now, I wish I had written down more of the things she said.

During an interview, an elderly man was asked – as old men often are – about the secrets to long life, to long marriage.  How do they make it work?  What can we learn?  (And I am going to paraphrase here, because I do not remember the source.  If any of you know it, I will be happy to give proper credit.)

Well, son, it’s pretty simple.

Every morning, I get up, I go to the bathroom, I take care of my business, and I look in the mirror.

I might have thoughts about my wife, how she’s getting fat and wrinkled and grey, how she’s not a young woman, how she nags me about my dirty socks or what-have-you.

Then I look in the mirror, and I say, “You’re no prize either.”

That’s pretty much it.

You’re no prize, either.  That cracks me up.  Of course, it might be wonderful to continue the romance, to love each other delightfully through all the years of life, to always think of each other as the best prize from the county fair.

But somehow, the humility in, “You’re no prize, either,” fills me with a quiet happiness.

Watching the Super Bowl yesterday, I was put off by the swagger of the Steelers; I was much more motivated to root for the Packers, who were a more humble team, to my eye.  (Disclaimer: I detested the Steelers before the game even started.  See Super Bowl XL.)

Truth be told, I was mostly there for the commercials, although I do watch and understand the game.  (Thank you, Ed.)

Some were funny, some were clever, some missed the mark by a lot.  One stood out way above the rest.  Check this out.

This is humility.  And pride.  Somehow, they go together here – the humility to see where we are, and the pride to believe in ourselves to become better, good, great again, remembering – always – to stay humble.

Hands down, the best commercial, in my opinion.

Here’s another Motor City reference that always makes me happy to hear it.

This is exactly that kind of pride – a humble gratitude for the simple things in life – good friends, making memories, sun shining down, wind in your hair.

Plus, it’s a great tune and a sweet video.  (Bet you never thought I’d say that about Uncle Kracker, did you?)


  • Is it a selective memory or did you seriously never get unsolicited advice from nana? Maybe it is one of the perks of being old, but I don’t think she ever held back from telling me what she thought: How to get rid of zits, I should take out my nose ring, God would be happy if I got married, etc. Bless her dearly in every way, but I never knew her to be shy on the advice front. 😉

    • Maybe both? I think Nana was less inclined to offer unsolicited advice as we got older. She rarely told her children or her sisters what to do – unless they asked her opinion, and yes, then they got an earful. It certainly wasn’t that she wasn’t noticing or caring.

      When I was much younger, I heard lots of Nana’s ideas about a good life: keep the boys at arms’ length, listen to your mother, don’t give your parents any trouble, work hard, don’t pick at your brother, etc.

      But somehow I didn’t interpret that as advice. She was telling me what to do, how to live, but she was also living those ideals. Maybe it’s just semantics.

      As I got older, became an adult, made my own choices, had to be responsible and accountable for those choices, Nana didn’t have much to say unless I went to her and asked.

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