As an unworthy follower of Jesus, I have many brothers and sisters, all over the world. A few days ago, I had breakfast with one such sister, whom I’ll call Sue.
Gallop Cafe, one of my favorite eateries in the Highlands in Denver.
Outside, one of my favorite places to eat, anywhere.
Conversation, always enjoyable with Sue, who converted to Catholicism several years ago, during the crest of the child-abuse allegations in the Boston area, a gutsy move on her part. Catholicism works with her: she takes what is meaningful and doesn’t worry about the rest.
I mentioned that the Pope had come out with a statement on abortion (Sue looked intently, not having heard the quote and not knowing what it would amount to). “He said,” I said, “Something to the effect that having an abortion is tantamount to hiring a hit man, and that solving a problem by getting rid of a person is not the right way to go about things.” Some of you winced, as you read that. It is harsh. But for those who think the unborn are humans, it’s fitting. Sue, by contrast, looked relieved.
“I’m never sure what I’m going to hear about the Pope. Some think he’s an anti-pope.”
“Nah,” I assured her, “he’s just a pope who happens to know what century he’s living in.”
We moved on to talk about her daughter, a quiet teen who doesn’t appear to be the ideal cog in the machinery created by society, including the education process. She’s a good girl, for sure, but not easy to read. She’s a QP (quiet person) and she’s misunderstood by her peers.
“Yes,” I commiserated. A friend of mine, I’ll call her, My Friend, recently told me that one of her friends, I’ll call her, Her Friend…. Her Friend told My Friend that she thought I was arrogant.
It’s quite a word, “arrogant.” It comes from the latin and, roughly translated, means to speak up for oneself or to lay claim on oneself. That’s not a very helpful etymology to get where I’m headed. More than the etymology is the sound, almost onomatopoeic: take the “arrr” of the common pirate and add that to the gentrified “gant” (as in elegant) and you have a guttural snarl that someone who thinks himself above others might utter.
Anyway, Sue was surprised (as was I, and as was My Friend). While I’m not above thinking I’m above others—an attitude I eschew—the appearance of arrogance arises not from my feeling elevated in social settings but from my feeling perplexed or confused. People say things that I cannot respond to politely and do not think it would be helpful to respond to rudely—and so I say nothing.
This “nothing” of course is essentially what killed Cordelia in King Lear, and it continues to get people into trouble. The reason it’s dangerous to say nothing (i.e. either to say the word, followed by silence [Cordelia] or to simply say nothing [me]) is because the silence allows others to invent their own meaning. I said, “Your daughter’s friends probably think she’s arrogant, when she’s just unable to think of something suitable to say.”
“Exactly,” said Sue.
About then, I remembered one more detail. When My Friend told me this, she had just poured me some of this beer (it truly tastes better than it looks or sounds)…perhaps that’s how we got on the topic: