Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Hardly the most newsworthy thing today (for future readers: today Donald Trump Jr.'s emails were released, providing direct evidence that the Trump campaign knowingly sought assistance from the Russian government), but David Brooks has written a widely mocked column containing this passage:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
I'm not going to defend Brooks exactly, but I'm also not interested in piling on. That's because while I think Brooks was probably making unfounded assumptions about what was going on in his friend's head, at the end of the day he was there and I wasn't. The whole thing sounds mortifying, but I wonder how many of his critics would have handled it better. For me what it hammers home is the importance of grace, an aspect of adulthood that is very important, but that is also very difficult to achieve, especially for socially awkward people like me (and, apparently, David Brooks).

Like everyone, I suppose, I know this firsthand. From time to time while I was growing up, children were asked to read Bible passages or other liturgy in front of the whole congregation during church services. One time I messed up and failed to prompt the congregation to recite something. I don't remember what it was, probably a prayer, but whatever it was it went unrecited. I walked back to my pew with my cheeks burning with embarrassment, having caught my mistake too late to fix it.

A lady came up to me after the service and told me that she was glad I had lost my place, because she had too, and she wouldn't have been ready to recite the prayer (or whatever it was) if I had played my part correctly. Even at the time I knew this wasn't especially plausible, but it was very graceful. If it was a lie, it was a generous one, told with aplomb, and it greatly eased my embarrassment. Whatever the literal truth of her words, she was telling me she felt my pain and she was on my side. It was a thousand times better than saying something like, "Everyone makes mistakes, it's no big deal," even though that would have been perfectly fine and probably truer.

It was such a small thing for her, but I remember it today, having forgotten almost everything else about those services, because it was both very kind and very skillfully done. She had a kind of Tolstoyan insight into what I must be feeling, and she went out of her way to ease my embarrassment. And she did it adroitly, like a healer relieving pain with a deft touch. It exemplified perfectly the way a Christian, or really anyone, ought to treat other people.

Anyway we should all aspire to that kind of grace, and when we try, but fall short, we probably shouldn't be mocked too mercilessly.


Post a Comment

<< Home