Who Let the Feathers Out?

Jewish folklore tells of a man who had spread many malicious rumors, hurting many people. Eventually, though, his conscience got the better of him and he wanted to make amends. He appealed to the rabbi for advice.

“Tell me how I can undo what I have done,” he begged.

“Go home and get a pillow,” the rabbi said. “Take it to a hill, and cut the pillow open. Wave it in the air until it is empty. Then return to me.”

The man followed the instructions. “I have done what you said,” he told the rabbi. “What is next?”

“Return to the hill,” the rabbi said, “and retrieve all the feathers. Put them back in the pillow.”

“The feathers have blown all over the countryside by now,” the man objected. “It is impossible to retrieve them.”

“You are correct,” said the rabbi. “And neither can you retrieve words once they leave your mouth. You can apologize, but you can never fully make amends

. . . . . .

When I was in high school, two girls approached me in gym class, interrupting my watching of the clock.

“You don’t have to respond if you don’t want to . . .” they began, and went on to explain: a rumor was circulating about me. They didn’t think it sounded right, and they wanted to offer me the opportunity to clarify.

The rumor was one of those false ones, as many are. (I had no idea how or why it had started, but rumors are sneaky that way.) They believed me when I denied entanglement in the situation. Watching them stalk across the gym (twice) to set a couple people straight, I was touched by their indignation on my behalf and grateful for their willingness to retrieve a few feathers, even though they had not been the ones to unleash those feathers to the wind in the first place.

It’s still remarkable to me that these girls—who didn’t even know me well—were willing to place themselves in the awkward position of bringing the rumor to my attention. I’d like to think that I would have done the same thing, but then again I’d like to think a lot of things about myself that would be filed under “In your dreams, lady.” (Reality is funny that way.)

I’m not sure what summoned up this memory today.

Maybe it was overhearing Sonny and Ace define gossip at dinnertime.

Sonny: “It’s like that game of telephone when you whisper, ‘My teacher went to Meijer Gardens yesterday’ to the first person and by the time the message gets to the last guy, he hears, “Han Solo loves to eat cheese.”

Ace: “Gossip is like sickness.”

Maybe it’s because a few people whom I care about have been wounded by gossip lately. Needlessly—of course. Unfairly—of course. Because people prefer to believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire than to acknowledge that forest fires are set by small sparks—of course.

Maybe it’s because, even as these particular rumors infuriate me, I wonder what feathers I have released, what feathers I have accepted from the wind without so much as a question. In some cases I don’t have to wonder very hard.

Operation “Let the Feathers Remain in the Pillows” coming right up.

Who’s in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lies and Otherwise

Once upon a time, before I became a mom, I believed that I would never lie to my offspring. I believed this firmly, as firmly as I believed that a few exposures to any given food would guarantee that a child would learn to accept it—yea, even love it. Or that a toddler cleverly offered two acceptable choices (for example, that between the red pajamas or the striped ones) would dutifully pick one instead of, say, fleeing the room mightily protesting bedtime. Or that there was never any reason to bribe a child.

But parenthood divested me of these notions. My sons have yet to willingly consume black beans despite the beans’ frequent presence at our table. The “just give them a choice and they’ll automatically cooperate” tactic: futile. And if M&Ms are the key to persuading a four-year-old to swallow his medicine? So be it.

And despite my lofty aspirations, I have told Sonny and Ace things that aren’t true.

To wit:

“Close your eyes, and I’ll push a button so the car will fly over that overpass. It only works if you close your eyes, though.” (My dad used to feed this line to my sisters and me, and we turned out okay. Besides, it’s fun.)

“It’s against the law to whine on your mom’s birthday.” (Don’t judge me. It works.)

“If you walk around with food on your face, the bunnies will come and lick it off.” (Do I get credit for saying “bunnies” instead of “cheetahs”?)

“I guess I’m getting a cold.” (This on the terrible evening of the Sandy Hook massacre, when at bedtime Sonny asked me why my voice sounded funny. Even the simplest honest explanation—“I’m sad because some people got hurt”—would have spawned more questions whose answers I could not give.)

“I can tell always if you haven’t brushed your teeth.” (Regrettably, this is not true; my mom-skill set is incomplete. I can sometimes tell, though, and they need to brush their teeth, right?)

“You can’t have a cookie because the jackals came this morning and ate them all.” (Dinner was being dished up at the time. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.)

“The class I took on how to be a mean mom recommended never saying yes to anything.” (Contrary to his contention, I don’t say no to everything. Just so we’re clear.)

So it’s true. I’ve lied to my kids. This should probably unsettle me more than it does.

But I am more unsettled by the truths I tell my children. Oh, I believe them wholeheartedly, and I want Sonny and Ace to believe them, too. But sometimes I worry that my actions will belie my words so that Sonny and Ace will regard as lies truths such as the following:

  • God loves everyone. He doesn’t hate anyone.
  • It’s okay, often even good, to make mistakes. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect.
  • Apologizing when you’re wrong is essential and is not a sign of weakness.
  • I will always be there for you, no matter what.
  • You are not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you.
  • Comparing yourself to others is pointless.
  • Cutting down others is a sign of insecurity. Remember that when someone cuts you down; remember that when you are tempted to cut down someone else.
  • Money and contentment are unrelated.
  • Money and is unrelated to one’s worth.
  • It’s much easier to judge than to show mercy, but mercy ought to trump judgment.
  • You don’t have to be the best at something, or even good at something, in order to enjoy it.
  • If someone needs help and you can help them, it’s your job to do so.
  • You have many gifts.
  • Everybody deserves respect. This means you; this means everyone else.
  • God forgives, and so should you.
  • You are loved—not for what you do, what you’ve accomplished, what you own, what you say, or how you look. You are loved for being you. Nothing will change this.

How many inconsistencies between words and actions will it take before they reject these messages? How many slip-ups am I allowed?

It’s a lot easier to stop threatening my kids with fictional face-licking bunnies than it is to always demonstrate mercy or to always show respect to everyone or to brush off one’s own mistakes. But I’ll try to clean up my act on all counts.

And that’s no lie.