Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Book of Manners


When the Pope doesn’t want to be Pope anymore, that’s like the President saying he doesn’t want to be President anymore.  Have we ever had a President like that?  One who just said, “Phtt, I’m sick of this; I need to live with real people,” and walked away?  The Pope tells the world via telling a classroom full of schoolchildren that he’s depressed and never wanted to be Pope in the first place.  

If the Pope can quit, that means I can quit too.

Good job, Pope.

Obviously it’s been done before; leaders leave all the time, zip.  Nixon resigned, and yes that’s a black mark on our nation's history, but that’s not the same thing; he had to leave.  He had actually done some bad things and was paying a price.  Nixon didn’t not want to be President; he wanted to not be an inmate.  In contrast, England had a king who totally reneged; that’s much closer to what the Pope is doing now.  

The Pope is pulling a King Edward VIII, and I can’t believe it.

I personally have spent a lifetime trying to learn the rules, trying to fit in, trying to do things right.  I know that most people who know me think differently, but nobody knows me as well as I know myself.  Grades one through eight in a Catholic school supplemented with military exercises of the German bent produced a physically sturdy soldier of the world.  It’s everything on the inside that is sometimes a mess, especially when Popes just take these…liberties.

***

Many years ago when I was a stick-child of 11, my mom gave me a book on puberty and stuff.  I was horrified, and the book smelled bad too.  It had been sitting in her perfumey bureau drawer for at least ten years, which I knew because I had found it in there months or years before and had shown it to an older sister, who confirmed that it was indeed the same instructional book, one for all and all for one.  Though I had paged through the book before, the words and images had never made an impression on me.  Plus, I always had it in my possession as a result of some commando mission on my parents’ bedroom, so it was like handling fire until it was safely returned, tucked under folded filmy head scarves and ancient glasses cases.  Up to that point, the smell of the book was what I had always found most bothersome, but when my mother suddenly presented it to me after school one day…that was the horrifying part.

Around the same time, I found myself consumed with the idea of “manners”.  I must have suddenly realized that I had them, and other people did not.  There was a second little book in my mother’s bureau drawer that I had also consulted over the years: the manners book.  It too meant more and more the older I got, representing everything that I should do.  I got particularly stuck on the part regarding how to get into a car when a man opens your door.

The specific directions were as follows, and I quote without error: “Don’t just step in, sit down first, then turn your legs inside.”  There was more to it, more explanation and what to do, but I spent many an hour pondering that exact sentence, which is why I remember it so well.  I remember every word, every comma, and the coaching tone.  I remember that it was such a short sentence, but I could not understand what it was telling me, and since I had basically stolen that book too out of my mother’s bureau via snooping, I didn't feel right about asking my sisters what it meant.

I don't know why the same rule didn't apply to the puberty book.

I was a divorced hunch-backed English professor when I finally realized that the sentence was a comma-splice, two sentences incorrectly joined with a comma.  As a child, I had been so well-trained in the use of punctuation and the appreciation of books that I had never given thought to the idea that a printed sentence in a book could be incorrectly punctuated, which is why I never understood it.  It should have looked like this:

“Don’t just step in.  Sit down first, then turn your legs inside.”  

When I finally understood the direction, it made a lot of sense, and I started doing it right away.  When a man bothers to open the car door for you, you should not stomp into the car with your skirt flying everywhere (as I had been doing cluelessly for years) when you can gracefully consider your behind first, set it softly on the passenger’s side seat, then turn your legs and your heels all together, tucked inside the car.  

Like a lady.

That’s the way I enter vehicles now, whether I’m driving or somebody else is.  It’s a rule that made so much sense that it became an instant habit.  Along with “maintain good posture”, I recommend it to anyone, actually, who wishes to maintain a state of public grace.

And the Pope quits his job.

***

All of this I ponder as I park in a spot marked “For Ace Hardware Customers Only”, feeling good to be an Ace customer parking in the right spot.  I’m going in there to return an irrigation coupler of the wrong size and pick up a thousand splendid pounds of birdseed because it’s on sale.  I turn my radio off, my air off, then stuff a sunshade against the windshield.

I open my door, turn my legs to the heat, and step out into a brand-new world.

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