Some lessons, even well-taught, take a long time in the learning. A lifetime, even.
One year. It’s been a year since I watched Jeff take his last breath. Since a person who changed my life, my way of thinking, left this astral plane.
“It’s better to be kind, than right.” Jeff said many things to me over the 15 years of our friendship, but this is the one that changed me, fundamentally. I’d like to say I always rise to it, but I’d be a horrible liar if I did.
We started as casual work-friends. Every office has them, the two who go smoke together, or the three who lunch together every day. We shared a love of Monty Python (it was he who christened me Bad,Naughty Zoot), an irreverent sense of humor and a love of books and film.
Personal crises brought us closer together, first his, then mine. Ever a rule-follower, Jeff was occasionally almost willfully naïve about things happening directly under his nose and I, who had while growing up only known the rules so I might find the best way around them was his reality check. I would like to say I was kind, but believe I was most often blunt.
When I was on the warpath, ranting and raving, Jeff would kindly say, “Ok, it’s time to take off the blue paint and settle down. Have you considered…” this was if it was a real thing that had me wound up. When any of us whined about perceived slights, the injustice of a world that singled out us particularly, Jeff would archly say, “It’s character-building and you’ll be a better person for it....” Everyone who knew Jeff, from his children to the Rector of his parish could recite this with an accompanying eye-roll. Which is why I took perverse pleasure in turning the tables, repeating the phrase his spiritual advisor used when he hit a rough patch or three during the discernment process prior to joining the Order of Julian: “It’s formational.” My reward was usually a raspberry and eye-roll.
“It’s better to be kind, than right.”
Jeff was that rare friend who, when his married friends divorced, had the grace and character to remain friends with both parties. It is the easy thing, to assign titles of Villain and Victim; it’s much harder to hold in one’s head the reality of each being both by turns. Jeff was capable of that and ever kind, even on the occasions when what was probably most needed was a good, old-fashioned, verbal bitch-slap.
We had differences a couple of times through the years. He felt the rough side of my tongue when I let it run away with me, and said things he probably needed to hear but I did so unkindly. He gave me the kindness of silence, by hanging up the phone and not saying the things I probably needed to hear, because he always exemplified “It’s better to be kind, than right.” He waited until his anger cooled, and he could say those things kindly.
“It’s better to be kind, than right,” he said to me so many times when I was on my high-horse, on my soap-box, secure in the technically accurate knowledge that I was BLOODY WELL RIGHT.
“It’s better to be kind, than right.”
I wonder if he had any idea how much he meant to me? How grateful I am to have known him? How honored I was by his friendship? How much he taught me? At the end of our last private conversation, the night before he died he told me he was glad to have had me for his friend, that I am an extraordinary person. Again, he was being kind, on the last evening of his life, for he knew what the next day would bring and instead of being afraid and needy, he thought to be kind.
September 29th, 2012. Two days shy of a year. It is raining on the way to the Greek Festival at the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Dallas, just down the street from the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Jeff’s spiritual home for many years. Paul says it’s no problem to stop by and see Jeff’s plaque now mounted on the columbarium in the Meditation Garden.
We stood in the rain and Paul held me while my tears joined the raindrops and I thought, It is better to be kind, than right. I’m trying, my friend, failing more often than not, but I am trying, and I can almost hear him answer as he would, quoting Yoda, “There is no try, there is only do…”
It’s only now, a year on, I think I understand what he was getting at. Ever the good teacher, Jeff wanted me to figure it out for myself: when one makes a habit of being kind, rather than insisting on being right, one ends up being right anyway.Thank you, dear friend. I shall keep working on it.