Terms of Endearment
Last month’s Chaplain’s piece by Fr. Joe reminded us of the blessedness of a bridge-builder, one who could make it possible to reestablish communication with someone from whom we’d become estranged. That story brought back to my memory a Newsday article [Tuesday, June 25, 2002, page A12] that said: “Abby Has Nothing to Say.” “Pauline Phillips, better known by her nom de plume of Abigail Van Buren, will not comment publicly on the death of her twin sister and fellow columnist, Esther Lederer, better known as Ann Landers. …After an unflattering 1958 Life magazine profile in which each spoke poorly about the other, the two did not speak for a decade.”
What is this?… twin sister advice doyennes were unable to communicate with each other? It surely had to cause questions to arise about the depth or expertise of their rendered advice – if they couldn’t be civil to each other. And it seems to matter not at all who might have been “right” or “wrong” in any particular exchange of comments. The turning away from kin is striking in its sad power to overshadow whatever good might otherwise have been done through years of assisting others regarding interpersonal relations.
But what an opposite effect came forth from a tribute written by Ann Landers’ niece, Jeanne Phillips (aka Dear Abby). She called her “Aunt Eppie” a woman of courage, integrity and loyalty… not only beautiful… (but) caring and generous. She sketched out a few brief recollections that revealed her aunt’s dealings with her in the most positive tones. She spoke like a dear family member and, in doing so, became a force for good, uprightness, honor and respect. The result of her efforts was grace and genuine affection.
It strikes me that there’s incredible power in the word lovingly spoken. Almost irrespective of “right-ness” or “accuracy,” the gracious and respectful utterance – transfigures the writer or speaker from whom it comes. Suddenly we think better of one who had been incapacitated by hurts or offences, rendered culturally enfeebled, less-than-that of which she had had the potential. The goodness of a niece makes the aunt somehow dearer, the offensiveness of a decade of non-communication less detracting. We are freed up to say that we will miss the one who gave the best advice she was capable of rendering. We liked the way Ann Landers helped so many people.
Is this perhaps a hint of the incalculable effectiveness of the Lord’s advocacy of our causes? If a human niece can do such good, how much greater is the pleading of our case before the company of heaven by the Holy One, our God? Makes one to really want to say… or write… or think the words that build up, encourage, and humanize the people around us whose lives we touch, eh?
In the name of the One who calls us “”Dear Ones,”
Chaplain James G. Anderson