Giving the World the Finger

I learned two lessons recently. First, never do dishes when you are too tired to stand. One Saturday around Christmas, about 1:30AM, I was cleaning up in preparation for visitors on Sunday. My wife, Liz, was cooking and the house was clean. The last step was putting a load of dishes in the dishwasher. I was scrubbing my large carving knife when my tired hands slipped.

An hour and a half later, I was driving home from the Emergency Room with four stitches in my right middle finger and a splint to keep it straight for ten days. (We live in a small town so an ER visit can be that short.)

Later that morning, I was speeding my way to church. We have four kids and I didn’t get to bed until after 3AM so, yes, we were late. I noticed that some of the drivers we passed looked at me a little shocked. The reason didn’t occur to me until Mass had begun and I stood in front of our congregation proclaiming the first reading. (One of the motivating factors to actually getting to church that morning was that we were scheduled to be lectors.) As I held the cordless microphone with my four good fingers, I realized I was giving everyone in the church the finger with the one in the splint! No one listened very well to the words of Truth and Love that I read that morning.

Later that day, I had a terrible time cooking for our guests because my raised finger kept getting in the way. It got caught in one of the twins’ hair. It made writing a challenge. I don’t even want to talk about the bathroom.

Monday, we began a new family tradition and volunteered to ring the bell for The Salvation Army at Wal-Mart for a couple hours. After one or two shoppers huffed, “Well, I never!” and “Same to you, Buddy!” I realized that with my hand in a glove, no one could see that my flying middle finger was bandaged and that I wasn’t just condemning them for not donating. When I hid the hand behind my back, the donations increased.

There are days when I feel like giving the world the finger, even when it isn’t wrapped in gauze and tape. For one reason or another—usually for four or five reasons—the attitude I project to the world is as clear as flipping them the bird. When I live like that, when I scowl at everyone no matter what they do, they get distracted. They can’t see the neat things about me. They can’t hear the good news I might bring them. They think I am someone I am not, but there is nothing I can do to change their minds. The first impression is set.

Giving the world the finger makes my life harder. My heavy attitude makes every chore more difficult. The energy it takes to be grumpy should be used to teach my children or help a neighbor. It robs me of patience, which is the most important skill I have in my job.

The stitches came out and my finger healed (enough to bend at least). I learned my second lesson. It’s a fluffy, feel-good hippy lesson, but it bears repeating. I should be nice to people. Don’t give them the finger, even metaphorically. If they deserve it, it doesn’t affect them at all and it really messes things up for me. If they don’t deserve it, it’s just mean.

Waving at the world with ten fingers is a lot more fun than with one.

©2009, Mark Phillips

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 Women, it's true, make human beings, but only men can make men. - Margaret Mead

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. or E-Mail

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