December 31, 2019

Looking back on a 2004 confession

            Your best friends are good listeners.  Sometimes you just can’t suppress a secret any longer.  You must confess.  That’s why you need a confidant to listen.
            Steve’s that kind of friend.
            We’ve spent hours together, traveling to meetings.  We take turns driving, talking and listening.  On a recent trip, I felt the need to bare my soul to the superior court judge.  I thought it was time my African-American friend knew one of my deepest convictions.
            “I hope that you won’t be offended, Steve,” I said.  “But I think it’s time for you to know that I am prejudiced.”
            I watched his ebony fingers tighten on the steering wheel as we rode in silence for a few moments.  Seeing that he had taken the bait, I set the hook.
            “Judge, I just can’t help it,” I said, “but I am prejudiced against sorriness.”
            Exhaling before he laughed, Steve said, “Man, you had me going there for a minute.”
            “Yep, Judge,” I said, “I’ve really tried to purge my ill feelings, but it is hopeless.”
            With another chuckle, Steve asked, “What kind of ‘sorry’ bothers you most?”
            Since he asked, I launched into a diatribe.  “Laziness is the biggest offender,” I fumed.  “My grandmother believed, ‘God has yet to create a man so “sorry” that a woman or a dog won’t follow him.’
            “These shiftless folks wouldn’t get off the porch to accept a free biscuit.  They are so sorry they couldn’t go to the bathroom without the aid of gravity.  We’re all God’s children, but sooner or later we have to act like responsible adults.  And women aren’t immune from sorriness, either.
            “If you have the mental and physical health to be productive and contribute to the betterment of America, you should.  But that’s a notion that is diminishing with each new generation.  The let-somebody-else-do-it syndrome is breeding a sorriness epidemic.

            “Next time you visit a store, count the shopping carts you have to dodge to park.  Why won’t people walk a few more steps and put the carts in the designated spots?  And why do people drop dirty diapers in the parking lot?  The answer to both is sorriness.
            “On the highways, watch sorry people toss trash out of their vehicles’ windows.  How hard would it be for them to have a litterbag in the car?  But they know someone else will pick up their garbage.
            “The same goes for old sofas, washing machines and mattresses that you see pitched into public rights-of-way.  Who does stuff like that?  I can tell you—sorry folks.
            “At our building, we provide special receptacles for smokers to dispose of cigarette butts.  About half of the butts are still flipped on the sidewalk and into the shrubbery.  Those folks are suffering from just plan sorriness.  If their mamas tried to raise them right, those inconsiderate smokers were just too sorry to listen.”
            Shaking his head and waving his hand, the judge advised, “You can rest your case.”
            “Thank you, your honor,” I said.  “I make no excuses.  I have compassion for people who can’t, but I have contempt for those who won’t.  Therefore, Judge, I am guilty of prejudice against sorriness.
(This column was written 16 years ago.  My opinions haven’t changed, but my friend and loyal listener is now a federal judge.  I know that I can never appear before his bench, but we still laugh about my confession on our way back from a 2004 Judicial Qualifications Commission meeting in Atlanta.)