Try a little tenderness

One of the meanest things I’ve ever heard one person say to another happened at a wedding a couple summers ago. My wife and I were sitting at a table with another couple we didn’t know very well when the newlyweds asked for the lights to be turned down in remembrance of their grandparents. When the lights came back up, the man turned to his wife and said, “Ouch. Looking at your face, I wish the lights would stay down all the time.”

It wasn’t a joke. The woman, vivacious and celebrating until that moment, looked like she’d been slapped. Our eyes met. She knew from the way both our faces fell that I’d heard what I thought I’d heard. We looked away from each other and down at the dance floor.

Look, I’m no angel — as my wife can attest. By stubbornly following my heart, I have said and done things to loved ones that have hurt them and made me go back to the drawing board of me. But I can honestly say that I, and I suspect very few people I know, have ever said anything so hurtful and cruel to someone they purportedly care about. Yet a man demeaning his wife in public sounds almost elegant compared to the national shoutfest going on at the moment.

I’m thinking about kindness this week, given the hate-speak-filled election we find ourselves in the gooey pussy center of, and because of the sweetness that frames the marriage plans of my nephew, Matt, to his sweetheart Heather on Halloween Eve. The nuptials coincide with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s “Rally To Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C., and it seems to me that Stewart could do worse for an anthem than Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” which my brother Terry sang beautifully at my sister Molly’s wedding a few years ago:

We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side

We’d help each other stay in stride

But each lover’s steps fall so differently

But I’ll wait for you

And if I should fall behind

Wait for me

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true

But you and I know what this world can do

So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see

And I’ll wait for you

If I should fall behind

Wait for me

It’s written as a lover’s pact, to be sure, but it also works as easy-to-use instructions for going forward in this brittle American culture: You help me, I’ll help you. You teach me, I’ll teach you. You lend me a cup of sugar, I’ll bring you some cookies. You get the idea.

A few weeks ago, Stewart gave the only guidelines for attendees of the rally: “When in doubt, don’t act [like a D-bag],” which is not a bad motto for the lot of us to keep in mind these strange days — especially but not limited to the jealous wounded formerly entitled young white men who think it’s cool to start fights in bars as sport and worse, for whom the D-bag term was invented.

No, we’re all capable of black hearts and bad moves. But what I’ve found is that if you see somewhere to help and you seize it, something like optimism grows in you and it spreads. I’m thinking about what happened this afternoon on 35W.

I was heading south, it was pouring rain and the wind was ferocious, and I saw a young couple walking on the shoulder of the road with a gas can. They were drenched when they piled into my car.

They were from Buffalo, Minn. He complained about his sister’s car and about how she never keeps enough gas in it. “We don’t know anything about South Minneapolis,” he said. She said, “It’s so nice and warm in here. Thank you.”

They’d been walking a while. I told them not to worry, that I wasn’t a freak that was going to drive them to Iowa and kill them. They didn’t laugh, so we listened to the radio.

I drove to the gas station and waited for them to fill their cans, then I drove them back to their stranded car on the highway because it was the absolute least I could do.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.