When I hear the word humility, I think of my grandfather, Narbey Khachaturian. We called him Poppi. Poppi was perhaps the most amazing man I have ever met. But you could never say that in front of him. If you google him, you will only find his obituary. And this blog. Perhaps this is because he lived most of his life prior to the age of technology. Or maybe he just didn't want anyone to think too highly of him. Whatever the case, I was unaware of his most amazing accomplishments until his memorial service. It was only then that we were allowed to brag on him freely!
Poppi was full-blooded Armenian, but was born in Iran (Before he was born, his family fled from the Turks and sought refuge in Iran). He lost his father and his sister at a very young age. He was accepted at the University of Illinois when he was 18, but it took almost 129 days for him to navigate his way to America. He arrived in the States on April 15, 1944, a day my family always celebrates. He met my grandmother at the University. After many years of listening to his stories, she finally convinced Poppi to write down memoirs of his journey to America. Our family is very blessed to each have a copy of these memoirs. The saga was truly epic, and, in retrospect, you can see God's hand at work every step of the way.
Poppi and Ma had 4 children, and Poppi was an esteemed professor of engineering at the University of Illinois. Despite his diverse background and extreme success, he never seemed to get caught up in pride. He spoke four languages and he had seen the world. He had a Ph.D., which I never knew until he died. He even mentored the grad student, Fazlur Khan, who would go on to design the Sears Tower. But when asked about Khan, Poppi would say, "I like to think he succeeded in spite of me" (You have to imagine it with a middle eastern accent. It's even cuter!). He taught for many years, and impacted many lives, but he always kept his eyes on what mattered.
Poppi was a man of faith. He raised his family in the church, and he taught his children the love of Jesus. As a result, all of my cousins and I have been raised in the church and follow Jesus. Most of my male cousins have also followed Poppi's footsteps to the University of Illinois. Those who have attended college in Louisiana have majored in engineering. I wish he were here to see us now, although I'm sure he would say, "I had nothing to do with it.”
Our family loved to play Trivial Pursuits. We would divide up into teams, but Poppi wouldn't play because, "I don't know anything," he would say. Before long, both teams realized that he actually knew every answer. He became the Call-a-Friend, so that both teams could share his wisdom fairly.
Poppi was also adept at crossword puzzles. How he figured these secret codes in a SECOND language, I will never understand. I can't do them and my ONLY language is English. But one time I helped him with one clue, which provided enough letters to unlock an entire corner of the puzzle. And when he finished the whole thing, he gave me virtually all the credit. It was not his brilliance that completed the puzzle; it was that one single clue that I helped with.
Nearing the end of his life, Poppi would walk me home from his house at night. He never wanted anyone to walk alone. We would hold hands, and move slowly, careful not to trip in the dark. As we approached the house, he would say, "I do not know; are you holding my hand? Or am I holding yours?" Even in moments of service, he would not take credit for being the kind, wonderful man that he was.
After his passing, the University wanted to name a hall in Poppi's memory. Our family wouldn't let them. We knew that Poppi would not appreciate the honor, although he very much deserved it. He was just to humble to have anything named after him. Instead, the university named the hall after the family: Khachaturian Hall.
Poppi would be mortified if he knew I was writing this, but we are part of his legacy. To God be the glory!
As an adult, I wish I had spent more time just talking to Poppi. I wish I knew his secret to humility. It is so easy for me to get caught up in all the great things I do and to choke on my own pride. I try to keep my eyes on Jesus, like Poppi did. But I seem to stumble daily, if not hourly.
Lord, help me to be more like Poppi. Give me a big 'ole slice of humble pie when I need it, and help me to remember that it is YOU who deserve all the glory. Lord, use me to further your kingdom in spite of me. Help me to learn humility. It's not about me. It's all about You.