When I’m at a party in Chicago and people ask me where I live, I say Forest Park. Often they respond, “Where is that?” When I reply, “just west of Oak Park,” they always say, “Oh sure, I know where that is.”
It used to bother me that no one seemed to know where my hometown is. Kind of an ego thing. Like when I went to my 10-year high school class reunion and saw the girl I had taken to two proms. You know, the girl I was truly in love with. So I went up to her and said, “Hi Sue,” expecting a big smile and maybe even a hug. Instead, she acted like I wasn’t important to her at all. What a blow to my male sense of worth!
That the whole world doesn’t know about Forest Park doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Sure, Oak Park has Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright while we have a lot of cemeteries and the No Gloves Nationals. But then I thought about it and realized I’ve never been to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home, and I hang out watching No Gloves games every year after swimming laps at the park district pool, and I often go to one of the cemeteries when I want some solitude to think or pray.
You know how it is. After we get through our adolescent rebellion phase, most of us realize how much we love our parents, not because they are famous or successful but simply because there’s a strong bond between us. Similarly, I don’t love Forest Park because we’re famous. I love this town because in the 30 years I’ve lived here I’ve become attached to the place and the people.
What got me thinking this way was that I flipped my calendar over to May and saw that the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce is coming up a week from today. On the one hand, it’s not an event to boast about to people in other villages. It’s held in what amounts to a warehouse or garage. People back home in Wisconsin would call it a barn. We eat standing up off of paper plates. The speeches are short and not everyone is paying attention anyway.
What makes it special for me is the many people who greet me by name and the many, many people who contribute to the event’s success by donating food or drink or items for the silent auction. And all these people get in recognition is one line in the program. Many folks who contribute don’t even get that … and it doesn’t bother them.
Not being recognized doesn’t bother them because being applauded is not what they are after. What motivates them is the goal of seeing this community work. They don’t care that they fly under the radar.
I’m going to label that lack of seeking recognition as the virtue of humility. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline writes that humility is a virtue you can’t attain by trying for it. “The more we pursue it,” he writes, “the more distant it becomes. To think we have it is sure evidence that we don’t.”
The way to genuine humility, Foster believes, is to serve your community without getting praise or recognition, for investing hours in serving simply because it’s your community and you want the best for it. Foster writes, “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness.”
That’s one of the things I love about Forest Park. It’s the unpretentious willingness of people at Village Hall and the Park District and the Chamber and the schools and in many condo buildings and neighborhoods to do what is good for this town without the expectation of being rewarded.
Sure, there are some big egos in this community, but when I compare my 30 years here with my experience in other towns, I have to say that there are relatively few. Humility, in my observation, is a virtue shared by many in this village.
It’s a precious asset. And here’s the thing. If you happen to notice a neighbor doing selfless service, don’t praise them because they’d probably be embarrassed. The best way to affirm them is to roll up your sleeves and join them in their serving.
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.