Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Play Nice, Kids

"Be nice to everyone, even if they don't deserve it."

That was Father Todd's entire homily this weekend. (He thinks it is the shortest homily ever, but Father Rathfon, at non-air conditioned IHM in Cuyahoga Falls delivered this on a sweltering August afternoon: "Good God, it's hot." His sweaty congregation was exceedingly thankful.)
I always take something away from Father's homilies that stays with me: a witty analogy, a new take on the scripture I hadn't heard before or even a reference to a TV show or movie (ie: there is no real love in Flavor of Love).
Sometimes, I am afraid he is a mind reader, because he talks about just the thing that's bothering me that week. Or my whole life.

Because of my lovely mother's influence, I have a deep-seated need to be nice to everyone. Family, friends, strangers, even postal clerks.

In general, I think this is a good way to live; if they inscribe "She was nice" on my headstone, I would be happy.

Clay is nice, as well (opinionated, stubborn and conservative, but very nice.) In fact, being nice to a stressed-out airline employee once got him bumped up to 1st class.
Our children have turned out to be nice people, I think.

See, it never hurts to be nice, my mom would say.

But sometimes it does hurt.

It's emotionally difficult to be nice to people who have hurt your feelings.

Maintaining a nice attitude while working with someone who is convinced he is smarter than you makes your head ache (of course, this could be from pounding it against both a literal and a figurative brick wall).

Being kind to someone who has said something unkind about your family (that they didn't think you heard but you heard) leaves your spirit deflated.

And being nice to your family might be the hardest of all.

I must be nice to my grandma. She is 96. She often doesn't feel well, she misses her home and farm and although she tells me she is ready, I think she is afraid of dying. She is sharp as a tack, but some days, she can be extremely mean to me and my sisters. Many of our visits begin with her loudly wailing "Where have your been?" whether it's been a day or a week since our last visit. "You don't even care about me" is another of her often-used favorites.

In fairness, many of our visits are very pleasant, and she tells me how she doesn't know what she would do without me, and how she knows what a lot of trouble her bills/birthday parties/ taxes/ medical care are for me ("Oh, no, gram, I'm glad to do it." See what a nice liar I am?)

But you just never know from day to day how you will be received. One day last week, as I left I said, "I love you," just like always. But she turned her head from me and said, "I don't think I know what love is any more." I went out to my car and cried for a few minutes before heading home, knowing that she would apologize the next day, which she did.

My sister says that when grandma gets nasty with me, I should shame her and remind her of what I do for her, how well she is cared for and how lucky she is that we continue to visit her despite what she says to us.

But I have convinced myself that if I do that, she will die that evening, and it will be my fault. And I much prefer playing nice over feeling guilty.

Peace, which just might be reached through niceness. It's worth a try.


  1. I understand your struggles with your g-ma. I have a similar problem with mine. It's better that you are nice to her no matter what. I can't say that I've been that way with mine, and I feel bad about it all the time.

  2. My dad struggled that way with his mother, and then his aunt. Obligated to care for those who misused him the most, because they were family and it had been drilled into him as a boy that he needed to care for his family.

    It wore him out -- I'm convinced it hastened his death -- but at least he had no regrets when their time came. No one could ever point a finger and say that he had neglected them. And his sacrifices, loyalty, and work without complaint are his legacy. First to step up to help; last to get credit, but he didn't care. It was its own reward. And so it will be with you, because you are of that same spirit. Doesn't mean you'll enjoy it all the time, but you know where your reward comes.