I call Kala to invite her and her husband for Thanksgiving. It’s just a formality. They come to us every year. But apparently not.
“Nice to be asked,” she says, “but we made plans with Edgar’s family up in Amarillo this year.”
I let David know.
“That leaves room for another couple at the table,” I tell him. “Whom shall we invite?” (I don’t actually say whom shall because it’s pretentious in a casual setting and I’m not the dowager countess of Downton Abbey; but the computer won’t leave me alone about it, so there it is, messing with my style.)
“How about Sally and Jerry?” he suggests.
Sally and Jerry are Kala and Edgar’s neighbors. The couples are close. They take cruises together. We don’t know them that well, but if Kala and Edgar are leaving town, Sally and Jerry might be feeling lonely, especially since their daughter lives overseas.
So I email Sally with an invitation. Her reply is vexing.
“How thoughtful of you to think of us,” she writes. “But we’re going to spend the day with Kala and Edgar.”
The deceit intended to spare my feelings has had the opposite result. I wouldn’t have minded if Kala had simply said that they wanted to spend Thanksgiving with someone else. And now I’m lying to myself. Of course I would have minded. I would have run it through my head over and over, questioning whether they’d ever liked us, disbelieving their laughter and suspecting their sincerity, not even trusting that they were who I thought they were. Which is what I’m doing anyway, so the lie served no purpose.
David doesn’t seem bothered by it. I ask him why.
“We have four other people coming, and we have plenty of friends who’ll be happy to fill our two remaining seats.”
This is true, but it isn’t the point.
Considering the scope of human suffering, my angst due to the minor social fabrication is a mite in a moth’s ear. That Kala felt the need to make up an excuse shows that the last thing she wanted to do was cause me pain. And yet she did.
The logical thing to do is turn the situation around. How would I have handled it if I’d been her? I wouldn’t have lied, I know that much; not because I’m so deeply dedicated to the truth, but because a lie has never slipped from my lips that hasn’t been found out. In the same way, I’ve never been mean-spirited or passed gossip without it coming back to sting me.
So, I wouldn’t lie. Instead, I would decline the invitation in a thoughtful way.
“Thanks for asking,” I would say. “But you know how busy David is, so we’ve decided to make it a quiet day.”
Standing behind the solid wall of David’s volunteerism is one of my tactics. Master Gardeners, church vestry, Habitat for Humanity; and he doesn’t just show up now and then to dig a hole or swing a hammer. He puts in hours of labor every day in addition to being on the boards. His involvement in good works covers all sorts of slothfulness on my part. Oh dear. Is this a form of duplicity? I fear it is! Like the stars, my infractions are too numerous to count.
Back to awkward situations, interaction, and hurt feelings: I admit that, inadvertently and in trying to be amusing when I’m not, I hurt others’ feelings on pretty much a daily basis. The only way I can avoid it is to never go anywhere and never speak.
On the other hand, it seems that, in the name of being liked and presenting the world with a kind heart, we’re all so careful with one another that every instruction or diverse preference is couched and delivered so tactfully that often communication is blurred and progress is reversed. Rather than ideas and opinions being clearly stated, they’re packed in clouds, placed gently on calm seas, and set afloat in the hope that someone will see through the fluffiness. If you doubt this exaggerated sensitivity you need to come to our church when the congregation is decorating the Christmas tree. The sugary agreeability is so prevalent that gumdrops form in the air.
It’s all very frustrating to a forthright woman with a sharp tongue.