Monday, October 12, 2015

The Little Things That Matter

It's been a while since I've done a spiritual post. Today's message was triggered by a Facebook post made by my friend and author, Julie Coulter Bellon a little while ago. Here is her post:

"Sometimes I feel sad at the lack of common courtesy in our society these days. There is so much value in teaching our children to say please, thank you, excuse me, and I'm sorry. To teach them common courtesies like if you're going to be late to meet someone, call or text the person and let them know. Or, if you say you're going to do something, do it, or tell the person, I'm sorry, something has come up and I won't be able to help you now---just don't leave them hanging. Common courtesy used to be so, well, common. I miss that!"

To which I remarked how common courtesy had been replaced by immediate entitlement. I strongly believe that. Not only that, I have no problem admitting that I face this struggle in my own life. There are plenty of times that greed, envy, slothfulness and pride all lead my actions. (I'm a big fan of the concept behind the seven deadly sins or the seven vices and have written and will write on them probably more.) Regardless, this idea of "I am entitled to my want" is one that I see plaguing this world. It is this attitude that is justified in pride that leads people to being discourteous to one another.

This led to me remembering a scene in a movie that is probably overlooked as it is nothing more than a small moment that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the film. I will get to that specific scene later, but the film I am referring to here is the 1990s romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping.

Peter Callahan (portrayed by Peter Gallagher) is painted as a fairly petty character. More on that later. Out of everyone in the film, he's the character that has the subtlest story arc, but it's there. And Peter is better than the man everyone thinks he is.

If I were a judging people watcher (okay, maybe I shouldn't say "if") and I rode the L-train every day and saw Peter Callahan, I would have some fairly negative judgments of him. In general, I would see an arrogant lawyer who probably doesn't have any real friends, only mild acquaintances. I would see an entitled jerk who couldn't care less about the lives of other people so long as they don't interfere with him. But I would feel guilty in noticing something that Lucy (Sandra Bullock) later refers to in the film.

After Peter awakes from his coma and he's interacting with Lucy in the hospital, he speaks about himself so negatively. She didn't just save his life, but she changed how he saw the world. He looks at himself as a selfish man who never does anything good. Lucy points out that he gives up his seat everyday on the train. He explains that it's not heroic. Even now I'm getting chills at her response: "It is to the person who sits in it."

Lucy saw something redeemable in someone who only saw reasons to spite himself. It speaks well to Lucy's character, but also it reminds Peter that he is a better person than even he knows. Not only that, he didn't realize how big of an impact his seemingly small gesture is.

FYI: This isn't the moment of the film I really wanted to point out. I'm getting there. Earlier, I alluded to a small moment in the film that seems like it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. But in it is the most redeeming moment for Peter. In the beginning of the film, before his accident, Peter walks up to the booth on Christmas Day and puts a token down for Lucy to let him through. Peter looks at her and says, "Merry Christmas."

The relevancy here is what I believe Peter sees in that moment. He knows that he has a fancy-shmancy car, but has decided to take the train instead of putting mileage on his car. Because there is a demand for the train, Lucy has to work. Peter understands that it must suck for someone to be alone in a booth on a commonly celebrated holiday. She even has a sad "I don't want to be here" look on her face before he drops his token. Peter doesn't know Lucy, but he feels bad that she has to work because of him and tries to cheer her up.

His simple comment is what tells the audience that Peter's family did raise him well. Lucy's actions to save him along with her definition of "hero" taught Peter to stop taking his "great" life for granted and see the smaller things.

I had a similar lesson once taught really well from my mother as well as a kind stranger. She and I were in Vons (a grocery-chain popular in Southern California) doing our normal grocery shopping. And I wanted to see if the latest WWF Magazine was out. (Now WWE.) Well, I was old enough that she didn't mind letting me go over to check. Of course, the magazines were in alphabetical order front-to-back, bottom-to-top. WWF was in the very top corner. But I could reach it standing on the lower rack (light enough that I wouldn't break it.) Anyway, there was a lady looking at a magazine who was in my way.

So I said to the lady, "Excuse me." She backed away and I got my magazine. Once I stepped down, I said "Thank you" not even looking at the lady and went back to my mom. Well, within a moment of returning, this woman came up to my mom and "Excuse me, are you his mother?" Concerned at what I had done, my mom cautiously said, "Yes..." The lady then explained what had happened and said "You've done such a wonderful job at raising your son to be so polite. It is rare to see today." Something like that at least. My mom was pretty proud of me, until I became boastful about it and then she reminded me to be humble.

I still appreciate the compliment and lesson on humility, which is what I must've had somehow in order to actually say what I did to get my magazine. I don't share this story now out of the pride that I was paid a compliment, but as a reminder on just how much people really do appreciate courtesy.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

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