Some of my family and quite a few of my friends are real characters. They are unique – one of a kind, human gems. Some make you laugh or roll your eyes; a few tell very highly embroidered tall tales. They embellish the events du jour because they can and perhaps because they always have an audience. I guess I gravitate toward characters. I gravitate toward people who aren’t boringly predictable or, perhaps, who are predictable in outrageous or outlandish ways.
But in addition to those kinds of characters, I was taught that it is helpful to have character. To be the kind of person who tells the truth, who shows up when you’ve said you’ll show up, who takes time to take the right way rather than the easy way.
Being a person of character holds many benefits. When you tell the truth, you don’t have to try to remember some long, convoluted narrative you thought up to cover your tracks. If you like having people trust you, you need to be the kind of person that others can trust. We aren’t put into this world to figure this out for ourselves – although often-times the school of hard knocks teaches us a few of these lessons. But there are lots of rules and laws and guides for living. Some of them quite old.
The Ten Commandments are in two places in scripture, Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
1) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
3) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
4) Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
5) Thou shalt not kill.
6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7) Thou shalt not steal.
8) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.
But they are not the only laws given to us. Rules abound. Our lives sometimes feel overrun with them: rules of the road; rules governing localities, county, city, state, nation; laws governing how we are to act regarding others, in public, and private places, respecting the property of others, etc. As a kid, when I watched Perry Mason shows on TV, I watched witnesses called to testify, stand and swear that their testimony was the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth.
And then there is life. Several weeks ago, on a Saturday and a Sunday night, I had successive nights with severe chest pain, burning up, difficulty getting my breath, in fact – very frightening. I thought I was having a heart attack. The first thing that Monday morning I went to my Doctor’s office, explained my symptoms to the nurse at the front desk and she told me to get to the Emergency room immediately. I did that and then didn’t get to go home again for two days.
Nursing staff explained that some foods could make matters worse: foods high in fat, spicy foods, etc. But I knew what had triggered my pain – it was my naivete. It was two political run-ins that turned ugly that were my undoing. You think you know someone until you find out that you don’t.
A childhood friend of mine told me recently that friendship and politics don’t mix. That hasn’t been my experience. In my parents’ house, growing up, we often had debates about subjects about which we didn’t all agree. The conversations were always civil, and if you didn’t agree, you were expected to explain why. I have many friends with whom it is quite possible, indeed typical, to have conversations on weighty topics over which we radically disagree with each other without the conversations spiraling down out of control. Our discussions are civil and engaging and not vicious or backstabbing.
After plenty of hospital testing, the cardiologist said that my heart was not the culprit. I didn’t have a heart attack. The pain I was experiencing was telegraphing something else. It turned out that I had to have surgery – which I had a couple of weeks later, on Friday the 19th. I had to have a Cholecystectomy, (koh-luh-sis-TEK-tuh-me), the surgical procedure to remove my gallbladder along with all the nasty little gall stones.
I have learned some painful lessons throughout these days. I learned that I could not deal with some forms of political disagreement. I have had to back away from some people whom I considered friends because I can’t deal with the viciousness, condescension, and personal attack with which they craft their arguments. I thought I knew these people. I was wrong. Two of those who blindsided me were pastors. I assumed that they would treat me with respect as I was treating them with respect. I was disagreeing with their argument but was doing so thoughtfully without venom. I naively believed that people could respectfully disagree as it was possible to do around the dining room table in my parents’ home. There I could hold a differing opinion but was expected to explain why.
So, the takeaway. I can prune social media lists, I can stay away from people I now know seem to find pleasure at kneecapping you – but life is never entirely safe.
Life is short, too short sometimes. It can be exciting, challenging, colorful, rewarding, thoughtful, but it is lived in the company of others.
All I know to do going forward is to try to live the way I was taught to live while being aware of potholes and kneecapping. Now that I no longer have my gallbladder, perhaps I’ll be lighter on my feet and more able to sidestep trouble.