Now what?

November 16, 2016

“In the long run we are all dead.”

— John Maynard Keynes

Well. That was something.

Hey, look, the world was going to end eventually anyway. Sure, I was hoping it could be delayed for another billion years or so, but I’m a procrastinator, and that’s nothing to be proud of. Is it fair to leave all that destruction to whatever human-like beings might be around a billion years from now? If we’re going to do it, let’s man up and get it done. (Ooh, I love that kind of talk! It makes me want to go out and deport some illegals.)

In the meantime, what? The cynical thing would be to say that, apocalypse aside, a straight, white, Anglo-Saxon male has nothing to fear. I’m not on anyone’s hit list. As for the women in my life, all of them are too old (my daughter just turned 17) and far too intelligent to be of any interest to the predator-elect.

In the short term, then, my little circle is safe. As for the long term, see above. It may be here sooner than anyone was expecting.

But again, that’s the cynical approach. The more generous approach, which I hereby adopt, is to do what I can to take care of those around me. People like me are unlikely to have a significant role in political events over the next few years; so, while the experts on the Trump transition team busy themselves with figuring out where Syria is and which countries are in Europe, I resolve to to pay as little attention as possible. I can’t watch, but I can work, in small ways, to improve a few lives. Until further notice, you can find me earnestly rearranging the deck chairs, attending to the things within my sphere of influence.

Today I will focus on improving the way people talk.

The holiday. Last Friday we celebrated what has come to be known as “the Veterans’ Day holiday.” Next week comes “the Thanksgiving holiday.” Next month it will be “the Christmas holiday,” followed shortly by “the New Year’s holiday.”

How did it get this way? What happened to Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas? I can’t remember the last time I heard someone refer to a holiday without saying “the _______ holiday.”

Stop it. We know they’re holidays. Why do we need to add two extra words? Would you say, “The Cubs baseball team won the World Series,” or “I bought some things at the Target store”? All right, then.

Safe travels. I recently traveled to Nepal for two weeks. When I returned, I drove two hours to Portland, Maine, for a conference. In each case, almost everyone who knew about the trip offered the same send-off:  “Safe travels.” I believe it’s only within the last few years that use of this expression has gone from occasional to universal.

I do, sincerely, appreciate the good wishes. But I get itchy when everyone starts saying exactly the same thing, all the time. And of all things, why is safety the only thing anyone wishes for me? Whatever happened to “Have fun,” and “Have a great time,” and “Bon voyage”?

For 40 years, my mother has told me to “drive carefully” anytime I embark on a long drive. It’s quaint to hear it from my mother, but it’s a little weird coming from everyone else. Please, wish me a good time, and let me take my chances.

So sorry for your euphemism. You read on Facebook (where else?) that a friend’s mother has died. What do you do? Why, naturally, you send a message:  “So sorry for your loss.”

I do not want to criticize. Death is serious, and if you’re sending condolences at all, good for you. Still—”So sorry for your loss” has become an automatic, almost involuntary response, approximately equivalent to reciting a perfunctory “Bless you” on hearing a sneeze. I submit that death warrants a little more thought than a sneeze.

Not long ago a friend mentioned on Facebook that her mother had died. Five people in a row—I am not exaggerating—posted the same comment, verbatim:  “So sorry for your loss.” Five.

In other words, “Ditto.” Come on, people. I know death is hard, but surely you can do better.

While we’re on the subject, I have a mild issue with referring to the event as “your loss.” Why must we be so obtuse? Why can’t anyone say “death”?

Some time ago I received an e-mail from a friend, informing me that a mutual friend had “lost his father last night.” For about two seconds, I sincerely believed that I was being recruited to help find our friend’s father. I was already thinking, “Well, I suppose I can manage an hour or two this morning,” when I realized that would not be necessary.

There is no surer sign of a societal breakdown than that I find myself offering etiquette advice, but so be it. The next time a friend or relative experiences a “loss,” do this: Send a handwritten card—not a Facebook post. And not one of those insipid Hallmark sympathy cards. Get some blank cards and write your own message.

Write something like “I was sorry to hear that your mother died.” Yes, died. And yes, try writing a full sentence, with a subject and a verb:  “I was sorry,” not just “Sorry.” Maybe add another sentence, like “You are in my thoughts,” or “She was a lovely woman,” or “I never knew her, but she raised a wonderful son/daughter.”

Be a person. It’s worth it.