The kids are back in school, though football players have probably been on two-a-days for several weeks, because athleticism takes practice. It takes practice and study to build strong muscles and as it turns out, also character. None of this is news, but it seems I am capable of going long stretches of time willfully ignoring this simple truth, until God sends either a cosmic two-by-four to the head, or an object lesson directly in front of my nose, like this one:
Once I worked for someone and we never really warmed to each other, but for a time we worked and existed in the same universe with grudging respect for one another and it was Okay. There was gossip, but I had learned the lesson of forming an opinion based in gossip long before. Then one day I witnessed something Ugly and realized there was some truth to the gossip. But on we worked and it was Okay.
One bad day, I challenged the Official Party Line and the Ugly turned on me. Schooled in Corporate America, I had survived subtler politics than these and in the end it was maybe not Okay but rather Okay-ish, and I lived with that.
As is my custom when I don’t want to see something icky, most especially within myself, I didn’t notice a sly muse, Resentment, quietly taking up shop in my head. There, behind an overturned filing cabinet and just to the right of the useless guitar lessons, Resentment created for me a great variety of misfortunes to befall my now-nemesis. It was delicious fruit, and the occasional nibble or outright gnawing seemed sustaining, even if it was like an overripe peach, sticky sweet and maybe a little bit corrupt.
But then this happened: during one of our In-Service days, the teenage child of my foe, in trouble for I don’t know what, was conscripted to help with grunt-labor chores and I was one of the beneficiaries. All things supply-related fell to me, including a metric ton of t-shirts needing sorting, folding and packing away neatly, and this I gladly foisted off on my little inmate.
We chatted while we worked, she uncomplainingly folding t-shirts while I plugged away on my filing. I found her to be an utterly charming, intelligent, perfectly willing little person and I was grateful for her. But something else sidled in with the gratitude, a shameful, squicky sort of feeling in my stomach, the sort of thing that burps up a hint of Shame in the back of one’s throat. All the wonderful, horrible things I envisioned happening to her parent would inevitably fall upon her as well, all of my delightful fantasies involving pitchforks and torches or at the least, public humiliation and ignominy, would by extension also rain down upon this helpful, lovely child. This I knew only too well. What a good thing God is God, and not a wish granting fairy.
When the rumors started, I didn’t feel the expected joyous gloating. My old friend Schadenfreude had deserted me, replaced with an even older friend: Irish-Catholic guilty superstition that all my fevered revenge fantasies had launched some cosmic ick out into the Universe. With a new, wide-angle lens view I considered the possible results of the rumors on the entirety of those affected. To gloat over the misfortunes of one’s enemy is to assume that only good results from his or her downfall and without collateral damage; worse, it is to Judge in the ugliest, judgiest way. And it always felt so good, except this time… this time it was like going back to one’s childhood neighborhood and finding derelict buildings and vacant lots.
Self-awareness tells me I’m not cured, every time I see a photo of Donald Trump I’m mentally raining down anvils upon his head (just where IS my ACME catalog, anyway?), but maybe I’m circling remission. Perhaps this is why we say we practice our faith, why in many religious traditions there is an outlined discipline for multiple daily practices – God’s two-a-days, because He can’t always send an object lesson directly to one’s office to fold t-shirts.