Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quiet Integrity (Happy Holidays)

The company I work for is a family owned business, so the Christmas party was a small affair at my boss’s house.  Sitting around the table, exchanging stories, the writer in me was keenly reminded that each of us has stories, and each person in our circle encompasses some role, often becoming the hero of a funny anecdote or personal family gem.
Generally, each person in our circle serves some larger purpose that we don’t even pay very much attention to on a regular basis.  There’s always the one person who can be called upon, day or night, who would give you everything they have because you need it.  There’s always one person everyone gravitates to, sometimes fun or childish or just charismatic.  There are as many labels as you can think of but, for the most part, any community only works as well as each of the members.  Humanity’s an odd beast.  It takes advantage of the weak and feeds off the charitable, and it never ceases to amaze me how often people mistake kindness for weakness.
When I tell stories about my family, whether they’re tales from my own childhood or those of my children, I almost always tell the funny ones.  You’ll hear me mention Gracie Girl perhaps the most, because she’s a smart ass.  She supplies ample material for daily comedy.  Littlest Guy will get many a mention as well – he has that spark, that intangible thing that makes people gravitate to him.  You could see it in him from day one, children flock to him and adults adore him. 
I think when you prefer to laugh, or want something light hearted and fun, those are the kind of personalities that make for good heroes.
My oldest son has always been quiet and more to himself.  He’s quick and intelligent, but doesn’t often seek out a spotlight.  There are home movies from his 3rd birthday – throughout the entire video, Gracie girl is right in front of the camera, singing and prancing and telling jokes.  Littlest guy is babbling and grinning and charming the hell out of everyone.  And there’s Johnny, off in the background, playing with a car he got as a present… and when his one year old brother came up to where he was playing, Johnny handed him the car and showed him how to do it.
People are always telling me how thoughtful and polite he is, as if I have anything to do with it.  He was gifted with a generous soul.  It’s not something I did as a parent, it’s intrinsically who he is.
There was the time I had all three of them lined up to find out who did something.  I don’t even remember what it was, but all three of them said the universal “I don’t know”.  At a loss for what to do, I grounded all three of them.  Johnny said, “Sorry, Mom.  I did it.  Gracie and DJ shouldn’t have to be grounded, too.”
I found out way later that his little brother did it, Johnny just said he did and took the punishment for him.  You can teach a kid not to snitch, but you can’t teach that.
A few Christmases ago, Santa got a new Nintendo DS for Johnny.  His brother broke his a few months prior, and he was way worse on those things than Johnny ever had been – Johnny’s a kid you never have to tell to take care of his things or do his homework.  So Santa figured, Johnny should get the new one, and DJ could get Johnny’s old one.  A few days before Christmas, DJ broke Johnny’s Nintendo.  Santa didn’t have the time or funds to get two, so I kinda figured, Johnny gets the new one and I knew he’d share, and then DJ could get one for his birthday.
Christmas morning, we all came down and there, with DJ’s toys from Santa, was the brand new Nintendo.  Johnny got up earlier than everyone else, and moved it to DJ’s pile.  He said Santa must’ve made a mistake because DJ wanted one so much more than he did.
In the grand circle of things, I can see him being the ant – all the grasshoppers are out playing while he works and saves, and then he gives them anything they need because they need it, without taking anything for himself.  He reminds me of Beth, from Little Women, who always tugged at my heart more than any other character.
And I worry about him being taken advantage of, because people don’t see kindness for what it is, and they don’t understand generosity for its own sake.  But when I get past the lump in my throat at anything that might hurt him, I hope he never loses that.
Maybe the world would be a better place if we prized quiet integrity more than witty quips.