Excuses, Excuses

The skinny kid was absorbed in the basketball game, meaning that he was fighting a losing battle to be an essential player on the three-man team.  He was tall enough; he just didn’t have the coordination necessary to be much help.  It almost came as a relief to him when the man stuck his head through the gym door and yelled at him to pick up the phone on the wall.  He and his friends had been getting together for a weekly game at the church gym for awhile now, right at the same time that his new wife of three or four months was at the laundromat, washing clothes for the week. Since they only had one car, he had dropped her and the laundry off on his way here, promising to pick her up in about an hour.  He was sure it wouldn’t be her calling him. Wondering who it could be, he headed for the phone.

The young lady on the other end sounded, as she herself would have put it, frazzled.  It was indeed his bride and she was unhappy.  “I forgot the hangers and I’ve got shirts in the dryer which need to be hung up right now or they’ll get wrinkled.  Can you go home and bring them to me really fast?”  He hung up the phone and turned back to the gym floor where his friends were waiting.  Three on two really doesn’t work well, so they were taking a breather while he talked.  He considered.  They were just a few points shy of the score where they would be quitting anyway.  Another minute or two wouldn’t hurt, would it?

Ten minutes later, he sped out of the parking lot and headed for home, going well over the speed limit.  He worried about a traffic citation, but he was just a little more concerned about what his young wife was going to say.  Sure enough, as he edged through the four-way stop at the top of the hill above their house, he saw the blue lights of the police cruiser behind him.  Pulling to a stop in his own driveway, he opened the door and stepped out.  The officer informed him that he had stopped him for performing a rolling stop, which he knew very well he had done (along with some other things the officer had missed).  Immediately, the excuses began to form on his lips.  He gave voice to a trial balloon, just to see if it would fly…“You know, I just got married and we moved here only a few months ago.”  Of course, he meant they had moved to that house, but he was willing to let the officer think it could have been to the area or even the town, if he was so inclined.  To aid his case a little, he suggested that his wife really needed him at the laundromat immediately.  The policeman wasn’t swallowing any of it.  “Aren’t you the same young man I stopped for a rolling stop downtown over a year ago?  Yep, I’m sure of it.  Same yellow car–same long hair.  You made up some excuse about being late that time too.”  The skinny young man’s heart sank.

He signed the citation and plodded slowly into the house to get the hangers.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to tell the Lovely Young Lady that they wouldn’t be able to have their budgeted evenings out for a few months to come. There probably weren’t any believable excuses he could use on her either.  He didn’t even try.  And, the shirts were wrinkled, too.

I have lived well over half a century. Fifty plus years and I’m still making excuses for my actions.  “I didn’t have any choice but to be rude.  She just wouldn’t stop accusing me.”  “What do you expect?  I only got four hours of sleep last night.”  “No, we couldn’t make it.  We were just too busy with other things.”

Excuses.  We have come to expect them, from the top officials in the country all the way down to the salesclerk at the local supermarket.  Seldom have I heard about an auto accident from someone who caused it.  Almost never is it the student’s fault that they received a failing mark in a class.  We are masters at making excuses, although almost never ones which stand up to scrutiny.

The little girl came into the music store the other day, right at closing time.  She was out of breath and clutching her abdomen.  I say she was a little girl.  It’s just that I have known her since she actually was one and it’s hard for me to accept that she is an adult, even though the reason for her clutching her abdomen is that she is very close to a full-term pregnancy.  She is breathing heavily from the exertion of walking and wants to rest for a moment or two before going on.  The Lovely Lady and I talk with her, wondering how she’s doing and, remembering when she attended our church a few years ago, asking her where she goes to church now.  There is an embarrassed silence for a moment and it is obvious she is seeking the words she thinks we want to hear.  “I’m not going anywhere,” she eventually admits and then adds, “but, it’s because we don’t have a car.  I just can’t walk that far to go to church anymore.”  Given her condition, we nod understandingly and she smiles, believing that the excuse has been sufficient.

It is closing time so, rather than pushing her out the door, we offer her a ride to wherever she is headed.  I assume that she is going home, but she points up the street, away from her home and says, “I’m going up to the casino.”  It is not where we want to take her, but I have already offered her the ride and won’t back out now.  On the way, I ask her, “Do you work at the casino?”  knowing the answer.  No, she doesn’t have a job at all, but she just likes to hang out with her friends at the casino.  “I don’t gamble of course; I just drink…a…coke…and wander around with them.”  She is purposefully looking out the window as she answers, not willing to make eye contact with either the Lovely Lady or me any longer.

By this time, we have arrived at her destination. The casino is about a block past our church, where she once attended, but can no longer go to services, since she doesn’t have a car.  We’ll move on here, since the obvious fallacy of her excuse is becoming all too clear to you, without any further need for clarification.

I want to be sure you get what I’m driving at.  We are not discussing the merits of going to church, nor even the issue of frequenting the casino.  The problem is that we are not open with each other; that we are more concerned with saving face or avoiding any type of personal penalty, than we are with telling the truth.  I’d rather tell a lie  than have you know that I am not fulfilling my responsibilities.  We even live in a society where this is the norm, rather than plain, open truth being spoken as a matter of course.

What I’m saying is that an excuse is a lie.  If you need to split hairs, there is a difference between a reason (“My house was on fire, so I couldn’t go this morning.”) and an excuse (“It looked like rain and I just had my hair done.”)  That said, most of the rationale we hear for failures to complete our obligations are excuses – nothing more, nothing less.  And, they are dishonest.

In the passage we commonly call the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus tells us to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”.  He even says that anything beyond that is from the evil one.  I want to write another paragraph or two to explain that statement.  But, you don’t need the explanation, do you?  I think I’ll leave it at that and let you work out the meaning.

I am guilty of the anything beyond part.  Again and again, I find reasons to explain why I couldn’t have done that important thing, or attended this essential event.  A good friend once said to me, as I struggled to explain how busy I was (as if that explained why we didn’t have time for each other anymore), “Paul, we find time to do the things which are important to us.”  I was chagrined, but the lesson was (and still is) clear.  Speak the truth.  Do the things which need to be done.  When you haven’t done those things, you still speak the truth.  

Excuses are nasty things, a double evil, if you will.  They allow us to think that we have gotten away with the abdication of our responsibilities in the first place.  Secondly, they allow us to think that we have gotten away with lying about the reason for the failure.  Neither is acceptable.  Neither leads to relationships which are open and honest.

Just one more suggestion in closing:  Find the time to do the things you say are important.  Failing that, quit saying that they are important to you, because they aren’t.

Maybe, it’s time for me to declare a no excuse zone.  I’m going to give it a go.  If it doesn’t work, it will probably be because of those pesky customers who keep making unreasonable demands on my…Yeah, okay…I’m going to do my best.

“Well, the preacher, he’s too young and, maybe he’s too old.
The sermons, they’re not hard enough and, maybe they’re too bold.
His voice is much too quiet-like; sometimes he gets too loud.
He needs to have more dignity or else he’s way too proud.”
(from “Excuses”~Kingsmen Quartet)

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
(Benjamin Franklin~American statesman/author~1706-1790)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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