Saturday, June 27, 2009

Polite Conversation

Last week, I backed my pickup truck out of the garage and into the grill of my son’s car parked in the driveway. Someone had taken his usual parking spot so he pulled in behind me since there was no other space available. I had seen his car there earlier, but in my haste, I simply backed up without thinking or looking.

When I realized what I had done, I got angry. I immediately went in the house and told my son what happened. I told him I was sorry and would pay for the damage. (The car is in my name, and on my insurance policy.) As I brooded over the circumstances, I found myself trying to place the blame on someone else. If my daughter’s friend had not taken my son’s parking place, he would not have parked behind me. It’s always easier to direct anger at someone else rather than oneself. That didn’t last long, however. I knew I was the one who put the truck in reverse and backed up without looking.

Later that evening, the family lightheartedly rehashed the day’s events as we were going out to dinner after attending vigil Mass. My wife remarked that she was surprised to hear me tell my son I was sorry. This really shook me. “What do you mean?”, I said. “My life has been one continuous apology!” Actually, I got a little angry again. I have always considered myself ready to admit when I am wrong. I suggested that I have said those two words way more often than she has. Of course, I am probably wrong way more often than she is, but I didn’t say that. I joked about us getting into a huge argument in the restaurant we were about to enter, and then the conversation went on to other things.

The next morning, I spent an hour at Eucharistic Adoration. During some quiet time, I began thinking about what my wife said. Was she really surprised to hear me say, “I’m sorry”? Should I tell her I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t say I’m sorry? It is often not easy to admit we are wrong or have made a mistake. I always thought of myself as being somewhat generous with my apologies, but maybe others do not see me that way. Or could it be that members of my family do not see me that way?

I remember times when I have been in really bad moods for some reason, giving my family the quiet treatment, only to put my friendly face back on when guests arrive. Why would I treat strangers or acquaintances better than the people I love? Applying some self-analysis, I seem to want others to think well of me beyond what niceties may flow from me naturally. I may go out of my way to be polite to others, but become lax around members of my own family. I suppose it is natural to relax our efforts around people we are most comfortable with. This brings to mind the movie Love Story that popularized the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I really have to disagree.

As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I am a regular viewer of their baseball games on television. Former player and now Cub broadcaster, Bob Brenly, often jokes about the six key words that every husband should know for a successful marriage. They are: “Yes dear, you’re right, I’m sorry.” While always good for a laugh, he is actually speaking truth, provided those words are said with sincerity. Pride often keeps us from admitting when we are wrong.

Sorry is not the only word often going unsaid. What about thank you? We can never be too gracious, yet I am sure there are many times when I take for granted what others do for me. If memory serves me correctly, it was Msgr. Kenneth Velo during his funeral homily for Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who told of the Cardinal sending thank you notes for thank you notes. How often during the coarse of a single day does someone else do something for us, and how often do we fail to show our appreciation? I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t say thank you.

It is particularly important for us Catholics to be ever gracious in our daily interaction with others, whether they be loved ones or perfect strangers. If we truly see Christ in every other human life, we should treat them as we would treat Him. Seeing Christ in the behavior of some people can be difficult at times. In those cases, it is all the more important that they can see Christ in us.