Monday, May 11, 2009
I'm a liar. You?
(this film largely inappropriate for children and workplaces, but I adore it anyway.)
We have been waxing way Odysseus these days. Busy doesn't even begin to describe our lives. The regular Hallelujah-It-Is-Spring-Again! upswing of activity has been compounded (rather exponentially) by my sister's wedding and my eldest son's dental drama.
Really, all of that information is relevant.
Stay with me.
Last Monday, Eli, Willoughby and I visited the department of pediatric endodontics at the Medical College of Virginia a few hours away in Richmond. Last October, my normally cautious, rule-following 9-year-old, hoisted himself up by the arms between two desks in a moment of age-appropriate folly. All of this while the teacher wasn't looking, mind you. Of course, not being blessed with the Luck O' the Sorry, the desks came crashing down, bringing with them the aforementioned Eli, who landed squarely on his front two teeth.
He looked like an abandoned building when he smiled. He was miserable guilty. Bless him. We got him caps and the dentist who did the work told us that if he began having any pain, we should bring him back immediately.
'Round about March the pain began.
We got some antibiotics, some Tylenol 3 and a referral to MCV for further investigation.
So, last Monday, off we went.
MCV is a teaching hospital. Eli's dentist was a resident, about done with his schooling. Extremely nice, capable guy. Young and handsome and in to sharing secret handshakes with his patients.
Because the facility is set up for teaching and as a public health dental facility, the exam room had space for six patients. So, as our evaluation progressed, so did the evaluations of many other children all around us.
I am an auditory magpie. When I am in a conversation, that conversation is my world. But when I am waiting, I don't know how not to listen to what other people are saying.
So, all around me parents and kids were being asked the questions we'd already answered.
What is your favorite drink?
What snacks do you like to have?
Do you drink anything before you go to sleep? What's that?
Does anyone smoke in your home?
And all around me, I'm watching the faces of parents lying. You can tell the lie. The slight delay in response. The eye roll up and over. The stammer. That smile.
And they are doing this in front of their kids.
Of course, I come home to lament to David that what the world really needs is for people to admit when they have done something wrong and then, try to do better. And to do this in front of their children, rather than trying to avoid scrutiny by lying. Lying in front of your kids teaches your kids to lie.
If you give your kid a sippy cup of Mountain Dew at bedtime, just own up and stop it.
Jesus demands it.
If you're going to be a follower of that Way, then you have to weave it in to every action and interaction. It has to be inextricable from your life, even when it's your neck on the block.
Turns out Eli's mouth pain was perfectly normal and had nothing to do with his fall. We had it by the tail for about two months before it finally just disappeared with the appearance of a new tooth. Last Thursday, though, it kept him up most of the night.
I believe in school. But I think there's a whole lot to life that isn't school. This is why we get a truancy letter every year. If my children don't feel well or if we have something else important going on, they don't go. Friday, the school day saw Schuyler off to first grade and the sleepless Eli off with Willoughby and I to Roanoke to pick up a dress for my sister's wedding.
It wasn't what I normally would have done with a child home from school, but I had to get the dress. The wedding is insanely soon and as awful as I am, I don't want to let her down.
If I may insert another wrinkle, my car didn't pass inspection awhile ago and I haven't had the money or the time to get it fixed. Mostly it's the money part. The two weeks one gets to solve all vehicular issues and have the car re-inspected passed a long time ago. So, naturally, not having the Luck O' the Sorry myself, I got pulled over on the interstate a few miles from our destination.
The State Trooper asked me about my very faded rejection sticker. It started pink. By then it was quite anemic. I answered all her questions honestly....until...she asked if I'd resolved all the issues that got the car rejected.
She was trying to be nice. If I'd had it all fixed and not had a chance to get it re-inspected, I thought she'd probably just let me go without a ticket. So, I lied.
She asked me again and I lied again.
All with my two sons in the back seat. Willoughby wouldn't know a lie, but Eli? Eli's almost 10. He knows more of the deal than I do most of the time. And the funny thing is, I realized what I was doing and didn't stop it. I didn't just own up and say, "You know, my bad. I'm sorry. I will not make this mistake again."
Caught in the headlights, I took the easy way. Not the Jesus Way.
So, she takes my license and the sad, faded rejection sticker back to her cruiser and while we sat and waited, I started to cry.
I don't know that I've ever been so disappointed in myself. All of those parents from MCV floated, in succession, by my mind's eye. And I sunk down deep in my humiliation.
With my window down, the sound of the traffic going by was huge. Each car and truck passing left behind it a slap of air. That's right. I was being rebuked by the very atmosphere, so deep was my shame.
As the state trooper got out of her car to come back, a truck flew past, taking her hat off her head and flinging it down at the very edge of the road. She looked behind her, bent down to get it, and in that way the mind does, I saw a fast-forward version of a potential future. In that instant, I saw what would happen if by my avoiding my responsibilities of keeping my car inspected (pretty trivial on the responsibility scale) and my lying to her, she had gotten hit by a car going 70 mph.
And I thought about that as I watched that not happen and her approach my car, summons in hand. I though about her family. Did she have children? What hadn't she done in her life? Who did she love? Who loved her? Who was I to put her in that position. A nice lady, just doing her job.
So, I was really bawling by the time she got to my window.
And she was so nice about it.
And I was so not worthy of her kindness. Sitting there. Big old hypocrite liar. All teary eyed with my apologies; how I'd been watching the traffic and realized the risk I'd forced her to take to do her job. She told me it was okay, because that's what nice people do. I guess she thought I was upset at getting a ticket because she went on to tell me how I could just prove I'd gotten the car fixed and the judge would dismiss my case. I didn't even have to travel back there. I could just mail it in.
I drove away, my entry back on to the interstate made easier by the trooper making a way for me.
I thought she was a lot like Jesus in that moment. Looking at me, in my messy, rejected car and smiling anyway; still making it possible for me to have safe passage by risking herself, even though I was the one to be shunned.
And I wanted to be better than I am.
So, I apologized to Eli for lying. I told him it was wrong. I told him I wouldn't do it again. Because the really important stuff in life wasn't about avoiding fines and the scrutiny of dental technicians. It's about being honest and kind and sincere and of service. And I had been none of those things in that moment.
And I resolved to be more mindful. And more honest. Even when it seems like it doesn't matter, it always matters.
People who lie, who avoid, who steal, they are not the broken that I observe from high atop Mount Christian.
They are me.
I am them.
In Christ, we are all as one.
As a follower, it is to me be as Jesus. It is to me to look in kindness on those that struggle, knowing full well the struggle within myself.
It is to me to span the void. It is to me to remain humble; to never indulge in being self-righteous because there is very little righteousness in myself. Any indignation I feel is just a lie I'm telling myself.