While I was cleaning out my FIL’s house I did a thing that I am still ill at ease about.

On Otto’s kitchen table, off to the side, sort of covered in stuff ,was an electronic audio bible. It was obvious that my BIL Luke had sent this to Otto some time ago, and the packaging had not been opened. I can imagine that Luke asked if his dad was still reading his bible, and when Otto said that he couldn’t read the text, Luke found this electronic one.   I’m sure that Otto was pleased his son thought of him, but truly a bit befuddled about what he was supposed to do with this bit of electronic gadgetry. I think it was important to Luke that his father was not just a believer, but Luke’s kind of believer, spending hours in scripture reading and prayer, ready to spout forth on the gospel at any moment. So, an electronic bible.

It was a good idea.

Except for all of the reasons it was a bad idea. There were small parts and buttons and I can’t fathom Otto reading the instruction manual, which was probably in smaller type face than his printed bible. Otto was never much of a reader to begin with, and while he and God were certainly on speaking terms, I don’t think Otto read his bible much toward the end of his life. Otto was a good and kind man – he loved the Lord. He was also stubborn, set in his ways and not apt to pick up a new habit.  In the eternal toss up between the Holy Writ and baseball on TV, well, Otto had a life time of bible reading and he’d been a Cubs fan for a very long time.

I figured Luke would be upset to know that his carefully crafted visions of his father were not accurate and I threw the package out, unopened. I suppose if I had been thinking more, I would have brought it back to our hotel, got it started and made it look as if it had been used.  (I always have great ideas 2 weeks later). I didn’t do that, I saw it, knew that it would upset Luke to see it buried, unopened, and I threw it out.

The next day Luke asked about the electronic bible and this is where it gets ever so slightly worse (well, it gets a lot worse.) He asked if I had seen it, telling me that he wanted to see what Otto had been reading, and I lied.

I lied through my teeth.

I lied and said that I hadn’t seen it. I lied and said that I must have thrown it out without realizing, that I thought I saw it on Otto’s table by his favourite chair, and that I was very sorry I had been so careless. I said that I would check with him or Mr. Spit before I threw anything out.

I lied. I lied a whole bunch.

I think I did the wrong thing for all the right reasons, and I’m still not sure this was a good thing to do. It seems kinder to allow Luke to continue with a particular image of his father, even if that image is incorrect. After all, who is to tell him otherwise? I understand in a way that I think Luke didn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t that his Father loved God, but he wasn’t much of a reader. I understand that Otto is no less than he was, no less worth loving and no less of a child of God because he didn’t read his bible. I’m not sure Luke can understand that. I’m not sure it’s kind to make him try. I’m also not sure that it is wise to do the wrong thing for the right reason. There are entire philosophy books with exactly this sort of problem about means, ends and intent. They don’t seem to cover difficult family matters. They don’t seem to cover sons who feel guilty and daughters in law who try to preserve feelings. They are utterly useless at this sort of thing.

My gut told me that this would hurt Luke, would make a sad and broken person more sad and more broken. Would make his grieving harder and more complicated. My head tells me that it is not wise or good to interfere with someone owning their own guilt, their own feelings and their own emotions.

So tell me, what would you have done?

(it’s ok, you can tell me that you think I am the worst person in the world, and that it is never ok to lie. I’m still not sure what the right course of action is.)

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14 Responses to Choices

  1. a says:

    I would have done the exact same thing.

  2. Calliope says:

    People used to send all kinds of things to Grandmother that she couldn’t figure out. When it got to the point where presenting her with such gifts upset her I stopped showing them to her. I would write a polite thank you letter telling whoever how much GM had LOOOOOOVED the electronic bird watching device and then I would happily donate it to the woman that provided our respite care.

    I think your gut instinct was spot on- Luke would have been bummed to see his gift unappreciated. Maybe if you got a do-over you could have opened the box and then given the bible back, but sometimes we just have to make a choice.

  3. WhiteStone says:

    Ouch! You asked!

    Tossing out not good. Opening the package to make it “appear” as if the item was used…not good either. Better to have let Luke see the truth than to lie to him…surely he could have dealt with the truth?!

    I notice about myself that a little lie often leads to another (in order to explain the first) and then I end up in a pile of guilt. The guilt itself tells me I erred in my original course of action (the lie).

    I’m not so saintly as to believe there is never a time to lie…if I were hiding Anne Frank in the attic and the gestapo came to the door, I’d lie. At least I hope I would have the sense and courage and faith to lie in an instance such as that.

    But in this? Truth would have been better.

  4. niobe says:

    I’m really not sure what I would have done. But I certainly don’t think what you did was in any way wrong.

    On a totally irrelevant point: an electronic audio bible sounds very, very cool and I wish I’d seen it.

  5. Kuri says:

    I’m not sure what I would have done upon first finding the e-bible. But the description of the slightly panicked lies to save the situation afterwards rings incredibly true to me. It’s exactly what I would have done: partly for Luke, but also partly for myself and partly to preserve peace. I don’t think there’s necessarily something wrong with the second and third reasons actually.

  6. Kristin says:

    I probably would have dome exactly as you did.

  7. debby says:

    Actually, I would have probably told Luke that Otto was technologically challenged as many old people are, but that you knew how touched he was by the gesture. I would have then steered the conversation into how much Otto loved his kids and probably related a few stories that demonstrated that great love. I wouldn’t have thrown it away, because, well…truth be told, I have a really hard time throwing things away, esp. when it is something that others could use. I’m thinking here of nursing homes or something, where there are young technology savvy people that could demonstrate the proper use of said audio Bible. The most important thing though, is love, and Luke hopefully felt that love. The Bible was probably not as important as you thought. But you were trying to be kind, and kindness is always good.

  8. HereWeGoAJen says:

    I would have done the same thing, especially coming up with the great idea two weeks too late.

    I think you did the right thing. Little lies to make people happier in a bad situation is what makes us a society of people who care.

  9. Brown Owl says:

    Tough question.

    Probably I would have set it aside as is, with other boxes and books for Goodwill. I probably would have asked BIL if he wanted to keep it.

    We recently went through this exercise ourselves. Gifted books (identified by inscriptions) were boxed up for the gift-or. If they were declined, we all had a chance to help ourselves. We all love books!

  10. Aunt Becky says:

    I would have done the same thing. Sometimes, as I inform Ben, who sees the world entirely in black and white with NO shades of grey (i.e. lying is ALWAYS wrong and you must ALWAYS tell the truth ALWAYS), it’s okay to tell a little untruth if it means that someone will feel better because of it.

    This is one of those situations.

  11. There’s lying and there’s omission of truth. I think the omission of actual truth is really what you did. To me, this equates to protecting a person for their own good; whether it be protecting your FIL or BIL. In any case, I probably would have done the same thing.

  12. Needles says:

    My dad once said that truth is a funny thing. Toss a pebble into a pond and watch the ripples flow. That is what the truth is like. Where you stand on the circle around a point of ‘truth’ is very different than where another person stands and what you see is not exactly the same as what they see. So a lot of the time, truth is a point of view.

    What you did was kind. If he is struggling then you did was right. Consider telling Luke the truth when he is stronger.

  13. Maureen says:

    Now both in my family and even more so on dh side of the family, presents given to a person are always looked for to see if they are being used/how much they are used (subtlety by my family, very bluntly and openly on his side), so I probably would have opened it, turned it on, pressed some buttons, then tossed it in the give away pile (I have such terrible luck, I know my fear with throwing it away unopened would be that bag would break when Luke was carrying it, and that particular item would fall on his feet, causing even more problems than the first issue). I definitely would not have just left the e-bible for Luke to find unopened. And I would have definitely given an evasive not fully truthful answer when questioned. And I would never tell (particularly dh… he finds it harder to see gray and to keep his mouth shut at times even if it causes pain to others)

    I like what Needle’s dad once said about the truth…..

  14. I have no idea, don’t beat yourself up over it. No harm, no foul, like they say in sports.

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