Learning from Life Experiences

Learning from Life Experiences

by the Rev. Eric Moore Duff

Fall has arrived in all its glory. On the east coast, daily forecasts are made regarding the current state of the foliage, hoping to attract “peepers” from other parts of the country to witness the colorful deciduous forests, laced with conifers, in places like Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. As we ended our trip to Maine a couple weeks ago, the trees were considered at 75% of peak. Tourists will doubtlessly be arriving this weekend en masse.

I have learned to appreciate our own version of fall on the west coast. We have a native sugar maple in our yard, which looks just as beautiful as anything we saw in Maine, in my opinion. However, it is the redwood duff that has come to represent fall for me in Humboldt County. Since duff also happens to be my last name, I’ve learned that the Scottish root for the term is “turf.” How many times have I heard, “Get off your duff,” accompanied by laughter from a person who thought they had come up with something original and really funny? Get off your duff is better phrased as “get off the duff,” hence the golfing expression “duffer,” meaning someone who can’t lift the ball off the ground even after repeated swings.

Anyway, we who live in redwood country are familiar with the avalanche of redwood duff that marks the turn of the seasons from fall to winter in this geography. There is something humbling about the season of fall. We know that the days will become shorter, colder and, at least in this part of the world, rainier. Learning humility is considered a good thing by most world religions. Like the word “duff,” the root of the word “humility” is “humus” or “earth”. One way to understand its meaning is to be “grounded.” Sooner or later life has a way of teaching us something about humility, regardless of how entitled or protected we feel in general.

Many faith traditions teach that life is not always fair, people can be cruel, and expectations are often dashed when they come up against hard reality. It is considered better to be surprised by the good things that happen, rather than continually disturbed by the bad. Many traditions call these experiences of good things “blessings.” A friend recently referred to them as “grace moments.” It is not as though we deserve them; they seem to happen in a random fashion. The point is to appreciate them when they occur, and this can only happen from a perspective of humility.

Giving thanks is one way of expressing humility. In my experience, life can be one humbling experience after another, interrupted now and then by blessings or grace moments. We are all grounded, ultimately, in the earth, or in stardust as the astrophysicists describe it. No one of us is better or worse than anyone else, from that perspective. It is a blessing simply to be alive and aware of the gift of a new day. Sometimes, that’s all we need.

I have been inspired recently by the example of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even in the face of the Taliban. She dares to argue that girls deserve education just as much as boys. She understands that education empowers people and that some elements of the religious world – and I do not single out Islam in this respect, because all religions share the blame –have tried to keep women from becoming fully empowered. If sin is making a conscious choice to do something wrong, then keeping women from enjoying the full rights and privileges that every human being deserves, including education, is a sin.

I doubt few understand humility as well as Malala does. Regardless of her brief 16 years, she speaks truth. Let’s hope that her kind of wisdom, born from humility, will set an example for many young and old people who are searching for ways to make this life a blessing rather than a curse for those humbled in ways that are hard to endure. Fall is a season to give thanks for the blessings and the grace moments that come our way without even having to ask for them, and for people like Malala who show us how to be fully grounded human beings.

5 comments (Add your own)

1. Mary I. Bockover wrote:
Hi Eric,

This was a truly beautiful and inspiring piece. Like you, Malala has been an inspiration for me too, for years. Like the beauty of a turning leaf, she manifests the beauty of the human spirit in how she faces and weathers the challenges brought to her every day. Sadly, those challenges do not result from the passage of time, but instead from how she and those she advocates for are treated -- simply for being female.

Thank you and warmest regards,


Tue, October 22, 2013 @ 6:02 PM

2. Jim Wash wrote:
Eric, it's good to see your thoughts as I remember our times in the fall. Are you still in the same house? I remember the colors as you describe them and they are truly beautiful. Tell Betty hello from Chris and me.

Tue, October 22, 2013 @ 11:27 PM

3. Mary Loucks, Chico wrote:
Thank you for an article that speaks to the heart. I believe we are all grounded in the earth - the beauty of nature.
And we, as men and women of God, need to work (and pray) for the equality of all.

Wed, October 23, 2013 @ 10:42 AM

4. Julie Davy wrote:
This article is a good reminder to me about life's challenges and our perspective we take on "good and bad" things that happen to people. As Christians we are charged with seeking justice - and it is a rocky road indeed. Along with that, we are showered with blessings and grace on a daily basis and they come from a variety of sources - people, nature, etc.
Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

Fri, October 25, 2013 @ 10:07 AM

5. Perry Gray-Reneberg wrote:
I give God thanks, Rev. Eric, for your servant-teachings in our diocese through e-News, via our local newspaper (I loved today's Times-Standard Halloween topic as you admonish us to "go with the rhythm of the seasons and mark the days as they come, with rejoicing."), and in gatherings of our diocese. Just your presence in the community provides a touchstone of faith, hope and learning.

Also a birth-child of the autumn, I return to humble places when night grows longer, winds colder, and paths become damp and aromatic. While from my place of privilege I find comfort in the duffiness of winter, I know the lives of others, like Malala, could benefit from longer seasons of growth and nurturing. Perhaps that's my work for being church during austere times - cast light along their paths, feed their ideals, and nurture their souls for the journey.

Fri, October 25, 2013 @ 12:53 PM

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