The family is the laboratory of charity -- This is a useful papal-or-saintly soundbyte which I think I just made up, although it's entirely possible that I read it somewhere.
Anyway, the family is the laboratory of charity. Where else you gonna learn it, I ask you? What else are we all doing here? In what other context can you screw it up as thoroughly as we all do screw it up, and come out forgiven and still beloved on the far side?
What does this mean, that the family is the laboratory of charity? Well, on one level I guess it means this:
Except that if that's the case, too much of the time we're walking adverts for the Epic Fail of Christianity.
(Did you just call me a moron? Because yesterday he called me a moron, and you told me I couldn't call anyone a moron, so why can everybody call me a moron when I can't call them a moron?)
Um, so that's why I said laboratory, and not Exhibit A. Meanwhile, instead of concentrating on feeling all one-in-the-Lordy, which if you were looking for an actual recipe for the Epic Fail of Christianity, that would probably be it, I think it's probably more useful to concentrate on the practicalities of experimental charity. Love is not an emotion, after all, so much as a thing you make yourself do, day after day after day after day, which frankly comes as a huge relief to me. My feelings are chaos; on the other hand, O my many best beloveds, I can fold your laundry. And you can fold mine. That's how you know . . .
Or, well. Here would be an example: A person in the laboratory of charity could consider that even the bathroom is part of the lab. This would be why, say, when that person, and I name no names, I point no fingers, opens a package of toilet paper, he, or she, or whoever, would walk the extra three steps to the wastebasket and deposit the plastic toilet-paper wrap in the wastebasket, rather than, say, dropping it on the floor beside the toilet. Not that anyone here would ever do that, but just say.
Maybe that person's feelings are in chaos; maybe that person is thinking about something else. Maybe that person is just as glad that the Scoutmaster doesn't live here and accompany him (or her, or whoever) to the bathroom in order to lecture him (or her, or whoever -- maybe it's the dog who does these things) about the Leave No Trace principle. And maybe that's a good thing. On the other hand, in the absence of the Scoutmaster, let me be the one to ask why a person should be more solicitous of the campground and the strangers who will use it next, than of the bathroom in his (or her, or the dog's) own home and the known and beloved family members who will use it next. So I'm asking. Why?
(Are you calling me a moron? Because you told me --)
I could go on and on here, because that's what I do. Tone of voice: Why do we speak nicely to people we hardly know, but call the people in our own house --
(Morons. Exactly. He called me that, and you said --)
And so on. And what occurs to me is that this thing about Leave No Trace, and about speaking nicely to people we hardly know, is easy as long as the other people involved mostly stay away from us. Picking up trash so that strangers won't think we're slobs is the chore of a moment. Being nice to somebody for five minutes makes hardly an inroad on whatever personal reserves of niceness we might happen to have built up in the course of a day. Those reserves, however, tend to be shallow, and when they run dry, then what? What if you've got nothing else to tap into?
Well, that's why the family is here. On a private, household basis, Lake Nice, that popular reservoir, is kind of a year-round mud flat. That's why we're not the laboratory of nice. We're the laboratory of charity, which doesn't not include nice, but happily transcends it. You can be in a crappy not-nice mood and still hang up a towel, or iron a napkin, or count to ten before spraying what's on your mind all over the unsuspecting bystanders. Or hide in the laundry room, where there's something to do with your hands besides hitting, pinching, or tickling another person. Or take out the garbage. Or sweep the porch. Or . . . you get my general drift. Learn it here, live it everywhere. So, so many opportunities to train yourself to love your neighbor. And, since it's summer, so much, so very much time.
So: The Family Is the Laboratory of Charity. I'm not a saint yet, but I'm ready with the quotable saying, just in case.