Friday, December 12, 2014

The Next Right Thing

Nick is home from school today with a fever and sore throat.  Nothing revelatory there to be sure.  He came into our bedroom a little before five and said he was all sweaty and had a frog in his throat.  I removed the frog and felt his forehead - clammy and hot - stumbled out of the bed and took his temp.  100.4°.  I gave him some Motrin and sent him back to bed, hoping beyond hope he might be groggy enough to get back to sleep.


He came back a few minutes later.  "I won't be able to go to school, will I, Dad?" he asked in the darkness.

"Nope," I said, "Sorry, son."

"Rats, it's COSI day and I was really looking forward to it."

"Yes, I know.  But we can't let you go to school, we don't want you getting the other kids sick," I explained.

"Yeah, that's probably how I got sick..."  he trailed off.

"Well, snuggle up with me here and try to go back to sleep."

Three minutes later we got up.

I got dressed, he went to get a favorite book he reads over and over again.  The house was dark so he followed me into the kitchen and watched me make a cup of coffee, which he's done before.  I was second guessing myself, I mean he did have a good point, other parents send their kids in sick, I know this, I help out in the library media center a couple of times a week.

"I guess if your fever goes down you could go in, I'd hate for you to miss the COSI stuff," I told him.

He looked at me for a couple of seconds and then he said, "No, I should stay home, it's the right thing to do."

Several years ago a friend I worked with was having some, well, difficulty deciding what to do about his relationship situation.  He had a girlfriend but wanted to see if another girl might be more, uh... fun, shall we say.  Basically, he wanted his cake and his cake, too.  He was using all sorts of elaborate excuses to make this copacetic to his desires.  Did I mention both girls worked at the restaurant we worked at?  Did I mention that his girlfriend was a very sweet, sensitive girl?  Should I mention that the other girl was, what's the word, cray-cray?

Here's the thing, and yes I did call him out on it:  He knew the right thing to do.  He knew the nice girl was right for him, he knew the other girl was just a lustful fantasy.  When I pointed this out to him he got pissed at me.  I didn't care, I knew who he was upset with was himself.

I wonder sometimes what the boys will someday think about all this, these piles of words I insist on throwing out into the cyberwind.  I wonder if they'll wonder why I didn't spend much time on the important topics and events of the times, these times... now.  I've laid out my opinions on a few things, but, basically, I have remained as neutral as I could be.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  Mostly, without the hindsight that time and reflection can offer, I don't know what is important.  I can't point to this moment or that and say it was seminal.  Secondly, I detest trolls.

You know, hatred and violence and disregard and ignorance and hopelessness are not new nor can my response to them be.  But, I know this, I can act on all of them in the same way.

I saw a man speak at a conference long ago.  The circumstances aren't important, but his message hit me long and hard.  He'd been a chronic drug-user and and an insufferable alcoholic for all of his life.  He detailed his trainwreck of a life in painful, heartbreaking strokes.  His hair was long and gray, his face was wrinkled and worn, his hands were as elegant and his words were more so.  At age fifty he hit a bottom that he assumed he'd never get out of.  At age fifty-eight, when I heard him talk, he was a OR nurse, you know, the person that hands the surgeon the scalpel, the person everyone depends on, the person that deserves a kind of respect reserved for those who have reached into themselves with deep courage.  I think meeting him was the first time I understood the word "elder."  I'll never forget how he said he got to the top of the mountain on which he now stood.

"I decided," he said through real tears of impossible gratitude, "to always do the next right thing."

The next right thing...

A few Sundays ago the boys were trying our collective patience at Mass.  The were talking and poking and just, well... their behavior was not becoming.  I struggled to pay attention.  In frustration I decided on a punishment of sorts.  I'd have them rewrite the Gospel reading because they hadn't paid a bit of attention to it.  I hadn't really paid much attention to it either, I must say.

I have known the Bible as long as I can remember.  I learned passages in Sunday school, I spent a few summers in high school looking for the flaws in it.  I studied it as literature in college.  I know the Bible.  This was the reading that day as it appeared in their Magnifikids, a Mass companion aide for children:

And Jesus said to his disciples:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
 “And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This is how they copied it:

It is a paraphrasing of Matthew 25:31-39.

I learned that last verse, in the glorious prose of the King James Bible, as:  "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Or as Nick said it, "... it's the right thing to do."

Or as a recovering drunk operating room nurse said it:  "Just do the next right thing."

Sadly, even quoting the bible these days can draw the ire of folks on the innerwebs.  That is truly not my desire.  Christians do not own the concept of doing the next right thing and, to be sure, the next right thing may be different for each person in each circumstance.  It might mean marching for equal rights, it might mean staying home with a sick son, it might mean trashing a temple, it might mean weeping in the night for the victims of violence and hatred.  It might mean giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless or hope to the hopeless.  It might mean accepting the differences between us and embracing the good we see before us.

It might mean... well, you can finish that thought.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear in the second pew..."  (I made that up.)

At Mass, Nick asked me to clarify how to remember when to do what during Mass.

I told him that most of the time you could watch the presider for cues and start/stop standing/sitting/kneeling when he does.

His response?

"Oh, I get it! It is kinda like Simon Says!"

My response?

Strangely accurate.  Sacramental Simon Says.

Simon Peter says, it's what I've been doing for years...

Thanks, as always, for reading what I am throwing out here.  If it isn't your cup of tea, come back, it'll be different next time... always is.  Peace.


  1. :D great as always. Hope Nick feels better soon!

  2. Behavior in Church remains constant from generation to generation. We can only pray that the outcome is also constant. Once one generation of parenting is done, it moves on to another.

  3. I often feel like I am failing my son somehow by not reporting on the "seminal" events of these times in my own blog. But I like your style of reporting events recorded in a book that with hindsight has proven itself quite seminal. Why take a wild stab at what might prove somewhat important when you can reflect on what you know is important, especially in this day and age. It is the right thing to do.