Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If You Can't Say Anything Nice

Sure, I know, it is an old cliche. But sometimes old cliches get to be old because they are true. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." My dad said this one all the time, when my sister and I were fighting in a mean insulting-each-other sort of way or when one of us was complaining about someone or something. It carried so much weight, in that it said "Be nice to one another" but also "Be thankful for the good things." It recommended first the restraint to just keep your mouth shut, but then also carried the challenge to find a nice thing to say.

And it meant all the more because he lived it. My memory might be polished brightly by time and adoration for my father, but I do not remember him saying bad things to anyone or about anyone. He never called any of us or anyone that I can remember a name or blurted out an insult. It could be frustrating at times. We would so WANT him to take our side and rail against some perceived wrong or wrongdoer. But he would try hard to point out the other person's motivation and intent and help us understand it from their side.

I remember once when he was very angry with me. Well, no, he was just very angry. He loved to do projects at our house when he visited, so I would try to keep a list of improvements that would genuinely enhance the place and also be somewhat interesting for him. There is a soffit between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling, and the only light in the room was in the center, so that when standing at the sink, your work was in your shadow. It seemed like a couple of can lights up there would be a grand idea. My dad and my husband set about cutting holes in the soffit for the can lights and cutting a hole in the wall between the cabinet and the counter top for the switch, then tried to run electrical wires down to the basement to connect lights and switch to each other and to power. Every way they tried, they ran into obstacles. There was much standing on stepladders and twisting into uncomfortable positions and feelings of being too far into the project to abandon it, what with the holes in the wall and the soffit. And I, in my ever annoying manner, was attempting to photograph the workers in action. Instead of blowing up at me for getting him into the project, yelling, telling me I was irritating, berating me for being a pest with the camera, he turned to me and calmly said "This is not something we are going to look back on fondly." There, that comment portrayed both his desire that I cut with the picture taking but also his admiration that I did, with my camera, often save for future enjoyment most events that we would and could look back fondly upon.
Thirteen years ago today, I learned that you could be so wracked with grief that you could wake from sleep already crying. Each year, missing him gets a little easier. I try to honor him by passing on stories about him. I try to remember to be just a little more like him.

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