A commercial for a credit card company asks: “What’s in your wallet?” It’s a good thing no one asked me that question the other day.
In my continuing effort to declutter and discard, I came across a carton filled with papers of all kinds that I’d saved over the years. As I flipped through them, out popped something that looked like an ID card. It was red, white and blue, and it stated, “This is to certify that the undersigned is an official 1957 member of The Secret Squadron.” There was my name, carefully printed in a child’s block letters. The card also bore the name “Captain Midnight” with a drawing of a rocket ship and what I presume was my personal Secret Squadron identification number.
I decided to bring the card to church to show my friend Jimmy, who graduated from our parish school just a year ahead of me and who, I knew, would get a kick out of this bit of childhood memorabilia.
I slipped the card into my wallet. Only later did I realize that I took a bit of a risk. The card also states: “Non-transferable—Carry this card with you at all times.” What if, God forbid, I had an accident that left me unconscious, and police or medics searched my wallet for identification and found the card? What would they think about a woman who appears sane and ordinary, and is qualified to drive, but still carries her 1950s Secret Squadron ID card? Jimmy opined that I’d be in for some serious medical observation. My sister, Betty, and I speculated on what the official reaction might have been—and laughed ourselves to tears.
When I stopped laughing, I started thinking about the deeper issue here. What do I communicate about myself—knowingly or not—to the people I encounter every day? What do I tell people about myself in what I say and what I don’t say? Actually, I have been thinking about communication a lot recently in relation to the severe storms we have had in March. I almost felt guilty because the building I live in did not lose power, while all around me, thousands were without heat or light in those cold and difficult days. Many had to leave their homes for a while. All of them waited anxiously for word from utility companies about when power would be restored.
My sister and her husband lost power on a Friday and did not get it back until the following Friday. After a couple of days, their utility company announced that power would be restored at 11:45 p.m. the following night. It wasn’t, and the next day the same announcement was made. This went on the rest of the week, and customers grew more frustrated and angry each day.
I wondered why the utility companies—or at least, the ones that fell short on getting the lights back on—didn’t just tell the truth. Why didn’t they just announce something like this: “We are sorry to tell you that we really do not know when your power will be restored. As you know, the recent storms caused unusually severe damage. We have many trucks and many technicians, and we even have reinforcements from out-of-state, but—much as we’d like to—we can’t fix every downed line at once. We are working as fast and efficiently as we can, and we will keep it up until every single customer has light and heat. Thank you for your patience.”
That would have been better than empty promises.
I especially like a line spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Of course, Jesus doesn’t mean that all of our speech has to be pared down to the minimum. The message I take from the line is: “Say what you mean. Tell the truth. Use words to convey a message, not to hide it.”
That’s the most important kind of power and light. It’s ours to use every day.