Neighbors

The message of Father O’Donnell one Sunday morning had hit the spot, as the old Irish priest like to say. There was more than one parishioner squirming in their seat as he explained the true meaning behind ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself’.

He had been at pains to stretch the commonly held view of the term ‘neighbor’… turning the good Samaritan story into one of race, politics, gender, age and social standing, so much so that the person in trouble could have been anyone alive today… as could the person who reaches out to lend a helping hand.

Father O’Donnell returned to his modest villa on the outskirts of San Antonio believing that he had done all he could to explain this simple but most important piece of the gospel pie.

But as we know good reader it’s not what is said that matters, but what is heard.

Mrs Jones always sat on the front row of the Church. On that particular morning she had managed to drag Mr Jones along too and it was he who gave his good wife of 30 years a nudge in the ribs at the mention of loving thy neighbor.

You see, Mrs Jones had been at war with just about every neighbor in their street… for years. It could have been an argument over a fence that was too tall, a hedge that had over grown into the Jones yard, a garden or front lawn that had gone to seed, a political sign posted in a window promoting the ‘other’ party, the noise of other people’s kids playing in the street, the wafting odors of foreign cuisine, the barking of a dog, the dumping of rubbish in the local park, a late night party or two or, anyone who smoked, drank alcohol or cussed in public.

Not a regular Church goer by any means, Mr Jones liked the message so much that he considered coming back next week. On the drive home he turned to Mrs Jones and said, “And how is it you intend to reconcile yourself with any of our neighbors my dear. Shall we be the good Samaritans and reach out…”

But before he could utter another word, Mrs Jones interjected. “Father O’Donnell didn’t mention anyone like the people on our street. Not a soul. Let’s be clear. The message was for other’s who don’t yet know how to love their neighbors. Not us! My conscious is clear on that matter. Now, what shall we have for lunch.”

The Wife or the Mother in Law?

I came across this sketch yesterday by William Ely Hill.

Originally published as a cartoon in a 1915 publication of Punch, the clever man titled this ‘My Wife and My Mother in Law’ with the caption “They are both in this picture — Find them”

Who do you see at first glance?

For me it was the mother in law… and apologies to Annie, God rest her soul, who was nothing like the grumpy old lady depicted here. Karyn’s mother was a woman of love, grace, country hospitality with a wonderful ‘pull your leg’ sense of humor.

There was an occasion when I first met Annie. Karyn and I had just started to date and thus, I was on my very best behavior, trying to be polite and well mannered among the potential ‘in-laws.’ We had just finished a fine home cooked meal when Annie asked what I’d like on my ice-cream.

“Oh anything you like Mrs Frankland” I said, trying ever so hard to be deferential and genteel.

“Really,” she replied… with that mischievous smile of hers.

She returned a few minutes later with a bowl of ice-cream, it’s topping, a mixture of peanut butter, Vegemite, tomatoes sauce and hundreds of thousands. I thanked her, took a mouthful and told her how yummy it was. I ate the rest without another word. We had both met a kindred soul… and there would be many more moments like this down the long and windy road of our relationship… when we could put our respective sense of humor’s to the test.

But I am off track. Forgive me.

For there is more to this sketch than the mother in law and, if you tilt your head to the left, you might well notice the profile of a pretty young woman.

My Wife and My Mother-in-Law is a famous ambiguous optical illusion in which a woman appears to be both young and old as our brain flips back and forth between two conflicting perceptions.

It is this ability to tell more than one side of the story that I’d like to become better at myself, in my songs, my stories, my teaching.

I hope too that I can learn to see a story, an incident, a news item, a scandal and so on… from many perspectives… not rushing to judge as quickly as I am prone to do.

I continue to be… a work in progress.