Manners Without Kindness Is Unkind

While our kids were growing up we often asked, “What do you say?” Which was to elicit the correct ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘I’m sorry’ response. Most parents probably remind their youngsters to say “thank you” or say “please” and hopefully good manners will never go out of style.

CaptureBut manners without kindness seem artificial and insincere. Think: Eddie Haskell or Nellie Olson. Hideous creatures who spoke sweetly but never lovingly. Saying “may I please” and “thank you” are hollow gestures if there is no true appreciation or respect being offered.

I smile (and cringe a little) while remembering a time that our son was guilty of some offense inflicted on his sister. When I insisted he apologize, he declared with exasperation, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” No – he wasn’t sorry. And no – he didn’t feel any remorse. Well maybe he was sorry because he got scolded but no real apology was extended to his sister. So I failed as a parent. I failed to teach him that saying the words without meaning them was wrong. And I am sorry about that. I suppose I should apologize to my kids for focusing on the manners and not the behavior all those years ago but that episode enlightened me. I stopped trying to be so concerned that THE RIGHT WORDS were being used and instead tried to focus on the feelings. Again, in full disclosure, I failed at this more often than I care to remember. But I tried.

Sadly many adults were probably once children whose parents taught them how to use good manners but failed to teach them why to use good manners. Sometimes I encounter folks who are polite and mannerly but just under the surface you can feel the contempt or the disregard that they have for others. The formalities in business and social settings require that we remain civil and courteous at all times but the indifference, the malice, the antagonism, and the prejudice is often palpable.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good manners, courtesy and respect. At times I’m frightened that in our “me first” society manners have become passé. And the only way to ‘get ahead’ is to ‘jump ahead’. We live in a world where we put our own needs and desires first regardless of who we must step on to get what we want.

Still, politeness with no real consideration intended for the individual is just dishonest. As far as I’m concerned it’s even worse when the insincerity of manners is somehow an excuse for taking advantage of others. A formality that carries no thought of human kindness or attentiveness is just a meaningless action. I know that I am guilty of offering empty manners. I’m certain that I have held the door open or waited my turn grudgingly. There is no doubt that I have casually said “how are you?” countless times without really wanting to hear how anyone was. I say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” robotically, not even making eye contact with the person at the market or service counter. While learning my manners, I may have forgotten the most important thing – kindness.

Kindness doesn’t require undying affection or even mild appreciation. Kindness doesn’t mean that you and I have to agree on anything. Kindness isn’t a guarantee that we will ever be friends. But kindness requires selflessness and sincerity and connection.

Manners are nice but please save the pretty words and just show me that you care. And I’ll try to do the same.

Peace (and you’re welcome),

Denis

P.S. Here’s a song to lighten the mood.

Letting Go of Stuff

I have to admit that I get attached to things. My favorite old sweater. My ink pen with the Air Force logo. My car “Max” that carried me on my way for 160,000+ miles. My Denny’s® coffee cup that kept my coffee at just the right temperature on my desk. My, my, my, mine. And this might be the problem with my stuff. It’s mine. It’s all about me. What I want. What I need. What makes me happy.

So I’m trying to let go. Some by choice; some by need; some unplanned.

Max was dying a slow death as many 12 year-old cars will do – transmission trouble, oil and other assorted leaks, failing to sometimes start, etc., etc. I traded in Max for a newer model (which I like) but I still felt a sense of loss as Max sort of limped away to the auto auction lot.

cupMy favorite coffee cup was recently broken by the cleaning crew in my office. The appropriate apology and offer of replacement was extended but somehow it doesn’t seem enough. They’ll never be able to replace a 20 year-old Denny’s® cup that my sister gave me. I’m afraid my coffee will never quite taste the same. That cup gave me comfort and a sense of connection.

Again, this unhealthy attachment to things is giving me pause. I need to let go. I must let go. I will let go.

How many times have I held on to stuff that I haven’t really needed? How often have I valued property over people? Stuff over relationships? “Loved” things???

My granddaughter Charlise’ middle name is Clare. And I’ve been reading about Saint Clare and how she followed Francis of Assisi’s example and gave away all her earthly possessions. Clare had been born to a wealthy Roman family but walked away from her life of luxury to join a religious order. Devoted to serving the poor and living a simple life the order of nuns would ultimately become known as the Poor Clares.

I’m not ready to give away all my stuff. But I’m trying desperately to place less value on things. I don’t need the newest gadgets or the latest fashions or the fanciest cars or the finest furniture. I’m going to try to live more simply. I’ve seen too many families torn apart fighting over stuff while trying to settle an estate. I’ve witnessed greed and selfishness and neither are easy to look at. I know that I have more than I need. So wanting more stuff seems foolish and sinful.

I’ll never be a saint like Clare or Francis. And you can’t have my Air Force pen! But maybe if I remove some of the clutter from my life I’ll be able to see more clearly what truly matters. It’s okay to have things but I’m going to try to give more and ask for less. Because I believe that less may be more.

Peace,

Denis

If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? 1 John 3:17

 

 

 

 

 

Getting My Just Desserts

The expression “getting your just desserts”, that which is deserved or merited was originally “just deserts”. Because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is most often understandably written just desserts.

Capture.PNGGrowing up with a mother who is half French meant that we were treated to dessert with every meal – cakes, pies, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, puddings, whether it was deserved or not. What lucky kids we were! Sweet, rich, delicious, fattening desserts were just part of our life. Eating dinner (or lunch) was really just an exercise in getting to the reward of dessert. It wasn’t until I was nearly grown before I realized that our family was unique. Sadly not everyone had homemade desserts with each and every meal. Ever sadder, some folks didn’t even have store-bought dessert! Why not??? I still can’t understand nor explain that anomaly.

When my wife and I were first dating I was invited to her home for dinner. Her mother prepared a beautiful meal. After dinner I was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Of course! What else would I drink with dessert? Coffee was prepared and poured and then nothing. Nothing. No mention of dessert. No inkling of dessert. No dessert. We talked. I was even offered a second cup of coffee, which I gladly excepted, hoping it would prompt the serving of THE DESSERT. But still nothing. And then the strangest thing happened. Dinner ended. Without dessert! I remember thinking that Deb’s mom was going to be really embarrassed later when she realized that she had forgotten to serve the dessert. I sheepishly mentioned this to Deb later in the evening and she said, very matter-of-factly, “We don’t usually have dessert.” I was astonished and then I really questioned whether we should continue dating. What kind on family was this? Were they Communists? Or some weird religious sect? Were they allergic to deliciousness? What in hell would make people “usually not have dessert”? Not even the store-bought stuff?

All these years later when I reflect back on this it makes me keenly aware that we all have expectations. I’m often anticipating something to happen the way I want it to happen – the way I think it should happen. I expect someone to behave the way I want them to behave – the way I think they should behave. I’m waiting for that dessert that may never be offered. And herein lies my disappointment and frustration. I’m so programmed to “the way it ought to be” that I sometimes miss the joy of new experiences. I’m so conditioned to “following the rules” that I miss the adventure of an unexpected journey. Opening myself up to new ideas and new places and new people doesn’t negate my life story. Instead it enriches me and gives depth and adds greater meaning to the traditions that I hold dear. So often I am certain that I don’t deserve something better (love, joy, happiness) that I stop trying to achieve a better life. I stagnate in my self-loathing and self-pity. But I know that there is more and I believe that the best is yet to come.

Perhaps “no dessert” all those years ago was my just desserts. After all, look what I gained in the process. By the way Deb and I have been married for over 42 years now and she converted. We are a dessert-with-every-meal family.  So I guess we both gained something on this journey together.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Full of Grace

Anna9Nine years ago the most wonderful thing happened. My granddaughter Anna entered this world and captured my heart. Nothing has ever been the same since.

Anna has an old soul. She has the gift (shared by few) of being able to walk into any room and sense whatever is needed by those around her. She gives herself completely. When she is with you nothing else matters to her except being in that moment. Whether she’s playing with friends or helping her little brother or just “hanging out” with her grandparents, she takes the time to listen and truly engage in the game or the activity or the conversation at hand. She is thoughtful, polite and loving.

Anna has a mighty spirit wrapped up in one tiny nine year-old body. She laughs big. She plays hard. She prays deeply. And she loves unconditionally. I am humbled by her kindness, amazed by her generosity and honored to be her grandfather.

I see my daughter in her love of laughter, her desire to excel in school and her need to be the family peacemaker. I see my son-in-law in her inquisitiveness and in her joy of learning new things. I see my wife in her deliberate approach to life; always stopping to “smell the roses” and never wanting to be hurried along. She shares her other grandmother’s artistic ability and love of nature. And me? Well she may have inherited some stubbornness and perhaps a talent for writing.

I believe that Anna will do great things in her life. Truth is, she already has. On more than one occasion she has afforded me a glimpse of heaven. And it’s a beautiful thing. You know, the name Anna means “full of grace”. I suppose nothing else really needs to be said.

Except happy birthday and I love you!

Pawpaw (Denis)

“Children’s children are the crown of the elderly” ~ Proverbs 17:6

 

Wisdom (or lack thereof)

Come on wisdom! All my life I’ve heard that with age comes wisdom. I’m still waiting. 61 years and 10 months old and I feel no wiser now than when I was 18. More experienced maybe but no wiser.

I would love to be able to expound on existentialism or the theoretical importance of justice or the evolution of macrobiotics. But alas, nothing comes to mind.

I have a sweater I sometimes wear that makes me look like a college professor. And when I speak in a slow, deliberate and thoughtful manner you might suspect that I actually know what I’m talking about. But mostly I’m just making stuff up on the fly. No time for in-depth analysis when I lack any real depth myself. Dang it! I thought that I would be a lot smarter by now.

My kids (who are actually no longer kids and are, in fact, wise) will tell you that I have offered plenty of advice but none of it “sage” or particularly helpful. Mostly I just speak in platitudes or colloquialisms: “If you walk like a duck, and quack like a duck, and hang out with ducks, people will think you’re a duck.” Or: “If everyone was jumping off of a bridge, would you?” Or a personal favorite: “If you’re not going to help push, you could at least get out of the car!”

reasonI’d like to make sense of this world. I’d like to make sense of this life. I’d like to impart some wisdom to those around me that might actually improve this world and their lives.

Now I’ve been around long enough to know that there are plenty of dumb old people. I just always hoped that I wouldn’t be one of them. Maybe there’s a “Wisdom for Dummies” book that I could buy. Or a seminar that I could attend. Or a self-help group I could join. Or something.

What’s an old dumbass to do? I’ve heard it said that truly wise people will never reveal all their wisdom. Instead they let their humility belie their superior intellect. Maybe I could pretend to be wise and humble. On the other hand, I suppose I should just learn to accept who I am. And thank God for all those people who love me in my infinite non-wisdom.

Thankfully, I think I can pull that off while I continue my search for wisdom…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

Being Carried

Lately my prayer life has been a bit anemic. I feel like I’m sort of ‘phoning it in’- “Hey God, you know what I need, bla, bla, bla, and oh, what I’m thankful for, too. The end.” And I’m not really excited to be at mass on most Sundays. I’m either bored or frustrated because of the political messages (not so hidden) in the homilies. I feel like a stranger in my own parish; why am I there? Except for the music and a few friendly faces, I could be just as spiritually motivated at the Hallmark ® rack at my local grocery store.

As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church.

Saturday night I was once again reminded of this truth. At a dinner/auction for the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood I had an opportunity to be with friends and partners in mission. There is a great tradition being celebrated with the Sisters. The religious order was founded in Steinerberg, Switzerland on September 8, 1845. A small group of young women from Baden, Germany joined together. Their goal was straightforward. To be a reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they served.

Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group lay people who are “Partners in Mission” have joined to continue to bring reconciliation to our world. I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present it’s own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish. Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectations of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved.

And I am reminded that we are the Church. We. I’m not alone in this. So it’s okay if I’m only ‘phoning it in’ now and then. And I will try to continue to smile and to welcome others around me and pray (perhaps selfishly) that the Holy Spirit will ignite a fire in my soul.

In the meantime, I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. the link below is to one of my 6 year-old grandson’s favorite songs. His spirit carries me, too!

https://www.vevo.com/watch/third-day/soul-on-fire-(official-lyric-video)/USV3M1400068

 

Re-Lent

Relent:  1. to become less severe, harsh, or strict. 2. to cease resistance.

Perhaps it’s time for me to relent. Or “Re-Lent”, if you will. Because it’s Lent, some of my Catholic friends are giving up or doing without some of their favorite things again this year. But for me, it’s more about looking inward. I can give stuff up but I don’t think that will really fill me spiritually. I need to “fix” me. I need to become less severe, harsh and strict. And that can only happen if I cease my resistance. It’s much easier to fix other people; to point out their failings; to judge their misdeeds; to excuse their ignorance. But when it’s my turn – well that’s not so easy.

I struggle with the ultra-conservatives. The narrow-mindedness of certain Christians is nothing less than appalling. I feel that some folks cloak themselves in “churchiness” to excuse or justify their racism, sexism, and homophobia. It seems that sometimes faithfulness equals exclusivity and sectarianism. I recently read that “the resurgence of women wearing chapel veils at Catholic mass is an outward statement against modernity and its lies. A political statement against a society that tells us that men and women are the same and that gender is not important when people want to marry.” What a sad commentary on our Church today. I thought Jesus called us all.

acceptanceWhen I attend mass and the priest seems hell-bent on telling us that we’re hell-bound, I want to scream, “Hey I’m here! I’m trying to pray; to worship; to rejoice. But your message week-in and week-out seems to be that I’m not worthy enough; not pious enough; not sorry enough for my sins. Prayerful posturing, sing-songy recitations and chapel veils don’t really set my soul on fire. How about some peace? Some love? Some joy?”

I’m not looking for miracles. I just want to belong to a group of believers that will carry me for a while as I struggle to find my own way.

I want to re-lent. I need to cease my resistance. Not to the message of others but to the message of God. I need to be less severe; less judgmental. I can worship with and even love those with whom I can never agree. Why? Because Jesus told us to love one another. He didn’t tell us who to love. He just showed us how to love.

So I promise to carry you when you need it (and when I can). Because I want to feel something other than frustration and disappointment. I want to hear something besides condemnations and admonishments.

Love. It’s what’s for Lent. Won’t you join me?

Peace,

Denis