This happened some time ago–before I was husband, a dad, before life happened, you know? Anyway, idealistic young man that I was, I should’ve known better, should’ve said something.
But Iike Liam Neeson in Taken, what I have are a particular set of skills. No, not those skills–I’m neither detective, nor secret agent. And (so far) no one has taken my daughter by force. Anyone who tries: I will go all Liam Neeson on your ass. <--I mean that most sincerely.But that's not what I really mean:I mean coping skills. I'm a champion of getting by, of making sure the status stays quo. After my parents’ divorce, I became a champion “make-doer.” As in, I made due. Whatever it was, after the tumult of my family situation, the blame, and recriminations, I learned in whatsoever state I was to put up therewith (because it was easier that way: nothing was taken away, and I could get what I wanted).
Nothing could upset my applecart–not least because I didn’t even have one! An applecart, that is. What I mean is: I got good at walling my heart off, protecting it from any more trauma.
Which of course means that I was really just in it for me. No one could hurt me anymore, and certainly I didn’t hurt for anyone else. Never mind my mom had gone through divorce: I neither knew, nor cared, what she was feeling.
I was too wrapped up in me.
Even after, when a few years later, I got “saved.” As I wrote above, this was some time ago, and was the last time I travelled with my mother to visit relatives. During this particular visit, it was made known to us that a cache of my (maternal) great grandfather’s books would be made available to me.
Of course I wanted them! There was (what I thought) a first edition copy of one of Spurgeon’s columns of the Treasury of David. There were many others as well, books dating back to the late nineteenth century. How could I say no?
And I didn’t. The only quandary was how to get them all from where we were in the northeast to where we lived in the southwest. How?
Turns out, a friend of my folks had his own business, and could ship them for us. All mom and I need do was take him out for lunch, ask a favor. Easy-peasy.
Leastways, I thought so.
As with many other things in life since, I was wrong.
What do I mean?
Lunch was going great, we talked of college, we talked of my great grandfather. And then things turned sideways:
Our old family friend started talking smack about African American people. “Always this, always that, lazy…” Blah, blah, blah.
I never felt more uncomfortable in my life. It was so wrong–what he was saying. (In my mind, I thought that African American folk likely had the same high regard for Polish people. Of which he was one). I wanted to sink into the vinyl cushions in the booth in which I sat.
What I didn’t do was actually say anything. This was the man who was going to get me my books–so who cares if he spewed some racist pablum? All I had to do was get through lunch, and I was golden: he would use his shipping account, and I would have a wicked awesome stash of old books.
Pretty cool, right?
Yeah, not so much.
It was neither the first, nor the last, time I’ve compromised my convictions to get what I wanted from life.
Who knows? Maybe there’s some deep-seated psychological reason for this? (Who knows: maybe it goes all the way back to mother Eve? This doing what I will because I believe it will make me happy?) I don’t know. I don’t know. What I do know is that it became easier and easier to hide the “real” me, wall off that authentic self behind facades of indifference and humor.
I would put up with an awful lot to get what I wanted. Let’s be honest (at least this is what I told myself): my dad was gone, my mom had to work a couple jobs just to keep us in our home–so who was going to look out for me, but me?
Marriage, parenting, and God–especially God–have wrecked that paradigm. Life is not a movie that’s all about me, and there are principles worth standing up for.
I wish I could go back and tell that kid who didn’t care enough about an entire people group to forego some dusty old books for the sake of his convictions. But that’s neither here nor there–because I can’t go back. But for what it’s worth: I’m sorry.
If there’s anything to learn here, it’s this: it’s never too late to start over. To take a stand for what’s right.
(To that end: I would love to hear from you; if you have a story on the face/faith divide, please drop me a line here. Thanks!)
Question: have you ever compromised your values to get something you wanted?