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“What’s that smell? Bacon… is that.. Maple bacon?”

“Good guess. We had it with breakfast this morning.”

“Eh. I really don’t like maple bacon. Too sweet.”

A distant relative had come by, and as was his custom, he was spreading his own brand of “joy.”

I wanted to say, I wasn’t offering you any maple bacon, pal. Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

Making the most minute small talk the world had ever known, I offered this original bon mot:

“Nice weather today.

“Not really; too cold for me,” he countered.

You see, I was visiting with a Genuine, Bona-fide, Dyed-in-the-Wool Contrarian.

No matter what you might say, his modus operandi is this: to disagree. To show you these two indisputable facts of life: he’s right. You’re wrong.

Seeing my copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” on the table, he said “Oh, you’re reading that? Why didn’t you ask me? You could’ve borrowed my copy.”

Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Anytime I want to buy a book, find a recipe, or look in the dictionary, I’ll put Mr. Know-it-All/Dr. No (perhaps Dr. No-it-All?) on speed dial. “Do you have this book? Do you know how to knead dough? Is there an “h” in maharaja(h)?!?” I’ll ask, in a frenzy.

All sorts of things run through my mind when faced with someone who wants to tell me what I ought to know (but obviously don’t). Over time, I’ve learned to keep a lid on those uncivilized thoughts.

What I usually say is, “Drop us a line now and then. We’d like to know how you’re faring.” What I don’t add is, “Because we’d like to know it from afar!”

In days past, I would suffer through such obligations on a regular basis, but now it’s very rare. Think of this: what if they dread the visit as much as you do? What if we’re all doing what’s expected and not a one of us gets anything positive out of it?

I’ve learned two things that I’d like to leave you with:

  1. Life is short, unless you’re sitting with Dr. No-it-All and he’s brought pictures of his Sales Conference in Vegas.
  2. Discretion is the better part of valor.

In New Jersey last week, gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono visited a school that had been devastated by Superstorm Sandy.  The newscaster said, “That 80 year old institution is badly in need of repairs.”

As he was speaking, the camera showed a close-up of Ms. Buono, who, while no spring chicken, certainly doesn’t appear to be an octogenarian.

Cut back to the anchor, looking sheepish.  That didn’t come out right!

Early in his career, the CEO of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen and his musicians were introduced as “Bruce Springstreet and the E Steen Band.”  Hardest working guy in rock and roll, and they can’t even get his name right?

The Chevrolet Nova didn’t sell well in Central and South America, leaving the carmaker’s executives puzzled.  Finally, someone figured out the problem.  Apparently, in Spanish, “No va” translates to “it doesn’t go.”

Isn’t it also true that even we, as people of faith, might say something we intend to be positive, only to find that it’s taken as an affront?

“I’m praying for you.”

Just as SueBE said in her insightful post earlier this year, this is meant as a helpful thing when we say it, but sometimes it can come across as pitying, or even insulting.  They may think we’re saying, you obviously don’t know what the heck you’re doing, so I’m going to ask God to intervene!  If they’re not on the same wavelength in their faith-life, maybe it’s best to pray for them silently.

“God chastens those He loves”

Well, perhaps, but God also embraces, encourages and emboldens those He loves.  When somebody is going through a hard time, it’s best not to blame the victim.  Saying something like, I’m here if you need me is simple but welcome at a time like that.

And that rule of thumb we learned in grade school – when in doubt, leave it out – also applies to well-intended platitudes that may turn into sour grapes and hard feelings.  Being there during dark days is the best gift you can offer a friend. Showing up and being supportive, even if it’s to sit in silence and hold a hand, speaks volumes to those we love.

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