By the time I had reached Chapter 12 (“Sins of Omission”) of Elizabeth Scalia’s latest book, Little Sins Mean A Lot, I had compiled quite an impressive mental list of all the little things (yes, “sins“) that are already killing me softly.
Sure enough, I began to realize that there are days when I’m so busy engaging in office politics – read: “Gossip” (Chapter 5) – that I don’t even notice I’ve been “Half-Assing” my way through the day (Chapter 10). Or other days when I’m indulging, again, in my favorite way of dealing with anger and hurt: distracting with my “Mr. Nice Guy” persona as I launch some clumsy, passive-aggressive response (Chapter 8).
But Chapter 12 particularly irritated me.
No, maybe angered is the right word.
You see, there are so many things that we actively do everyday that we know are, simply, wrong. We know, for instance, that we shouldn’t engage in the undue judging of others when we ourselves obviously fall so short (Chapter 6). Or, heaven help us, when we cheat on our taxes or actively steal money or things (however rarely), services (admittedly sometimes), or time from our employer (shockingly, almost always) (Chapter 11).
But to recognize that there are things that we have failed to do can be altogether disheartening. It feels burdensome and it feels as if we’ve been blindsided. What more do you want from me? Please leave me alone, I’m doing my best here.
I think of Michael H., the homeless, one-leg-missing, wheel-chair bound, recently VA-released, veteran that I ran into, again, one very early morning last week at Dunkin’ Donuts.
He told me that he’s dying, claiming some disease that I’ve never heard of. And, as if to prove it to some skeptical passer-by (I wasn’t, really), he moved his trousers out of the way enough to show me a huge, gaping, clearly infected hole in his upper leg. Revulsion, sympathy, sadness, unmoored anger, my own cowardness, all mixed inside me. I was moved enough to hand him $20, salute him for his service, hold his hand briefly, and, in response to his “I love you, man,” I was able to reflexively respond in kind. He then told me that I reminded him of Steve Martin. And I laughed, hoping that it was even a bit true.
And yet . . .
And yet I have found myself avoiding him – ignoring him, really – ever since then.
Why? I can’t handle the upsetting emotions again. Not the revulsion, not the sadness, not the anger, not my own cowardness.
Even if he is, clearly, one of the least of these.
That’s not really a little sin of omission, is it? It’s actually a pretty damning one. And I find myself at a loss to confront it directly.
So, yes, I feel convicted. And sincerely contrite.
But enough to move me into action? I don’t know.
Not yet anyway.
I do know that I’ve got to better contemplate the many beautiful prayers and the many terrific quotes found throughout this neat little offering by Scalia.
But, fair warning: this is not some feel good book.
But neither is it one that can or should be ignored.
You need this excellent, thoughtful book as much as I do.
And you can get it here.
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