Post 273

You Have 3 New Messages: Reflections on Keeping It Real

The problem with falling asleep in a wax museum is that you will look like one of the wax figures that they have of tourists sitting on benches who are also dozing off.

I once fell asleep at Madame Tussauds, a wax museum in London.

That was a while ago, back in the day when they used an apostrophe and wrote it like this: “Madame Tussaud’s.”

I recently learned that there is another Madame Tussauds location in Berlin, where, until early 2016, a wax replica of Hitler was included in the collection. On the day the wax museum opened, an unemployed former policeman ran in and decapitated the wax figure.

You can’t find this vandal’s full name online. It’s just “Frank L.” Apparently, he said that he was protesting the inclusion of Hitler in the wax museum, but I have also read that Frank had made a bet the night before. I’m betting that winning the bet was more important to Frank than making a statement.

I’m not a fan of wax museums, and I’m not a fan of Hitler, but it wasn’t right for Frank to damage property that didn’t belong to him. It’s wrong on several levels. I think of the guard who was injured when Frank charged in, and I think of the ruined work of the wax sculptor who had worked skillfully to make the sculpture, and of the government employees whose time was diverted to deal with the necessary prosecution of Frank when there were other, more pressing matters that deserved attention.

As I dozed off on the bench at the museum, I was suddenly awoken by a woman who had just poked me in the arm, testing to see if I was a real person or a very lifelike wax figure.

As it turns out, I was alive.

She and her fellow musuem-goers were startled, reacting in astonished laughter when I woke up and looked at her.

I bring this incident up because it still happens to me. I receive, from time to time, emails from those who want to see what will happen when they write to me. They say, “just thinking about you and wondering how the heck you are doing?”

(This is an actual quote. After a long time of thinking of me — so she says — that phrasing captured the flavour she wanted, I guess.)

In this case, I responded.

I responded that I’m fine, and that I’m currently up to this and that, and I reciprocated, asking how things were with her.

I’ve never heard from her since.


You see, when people write to you, saying, “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Birthday,” or asking you how you are, they don’t necessarily care about you. Some do care, but some don’t. Do I say something entirely shocking? I do not. The truth is that some are contacting you because they want something for themselves, and not your increased happiness or well-being.

They want:
(a) to see what happens when they write, in order to satisfy their curiosity
(b) to find out something about you, in order to satisfy their curiosity
(c) to feel good about themselves (“I’m a good Christian,” “I never forget a birthday”)

This is why some conversations never make it to round 2.

Though you are the recipient of a holiday greeting or a hey-how-ya-doin’ email, you are nothing more than the canvas that they use to paint a portrait of themselves. You are the mirror that they gaze into, in order that they can better admire their own image.

The proof of this is in what and how they write in the first place, and in what and how they write if you respond.

Sometimes I receive emails where the point isn’t even evident. A good email should have a point. Why send a pointless email? Why send an email which leaves the recipient scratching his head: “Is this supposed to be profound, or funny, or somehow of interest to me?” Why bother? Even spam is better than that; you know what they want you to buy.

Speaking of spam, a while back I got an email from Hollie, who wrote, “Hi Mena!” and then pasted a link to spam.

A future in white-collar crime is certainly not advisable in her case; the poor girl doesn’t even know how to create fake junk mail. (Don’t write the recipient’s name in the text portion, honey.)

Believe me when I say that my current views regarding past behaviour are confirmed by current behaviour.

A good greeting requires good intentions. Yesterday I received a Christmas card from Fr. Brian Inglis and another from Leah. The former was my spiritual director prior to being assigned to Hinton, and the second is a relative.

Both cards were nice, and both achieved their intended result. They were a way of saying, “Hello, I am thinking of you,” and they both provided a few words as a mini-update about their lives.

Sometimes Christmas cards contain updates, and these are fine, provided that one’s intention is good. Think about what you’re trying to do, beyond, “I want to include a newsletter.” WHY do you want to include a newsletter?

Do not send a newsletter to anyone who does not share your joy. Do not send a newsletter to someone who cannot rejoice with you at your successes. If you believe that your sister-in-law is competitive with you, then do NOT include your newsletter, which details your recent activities that turned out well, along with your husband’s promotion and the academic, social, spiritual, artistic and athletic achievements of your children.

Similarly, do not send a newsletter about the difficulties that you are experiencing, unless you believe that the recipient will sympathize with your difficulties.

(And obviously, do not divulge the difficulties experienced by your children or anyone else under your care without very careful consideration. Their struggles, both momentary and long-standing, are not to be used to make your newsletters more interesting. Guard their privacy. Be loyal. Do you want, in a decade or two, your children to tell their friends about the time you escaped from your senior’s facility and stole all the toothpaste from the convenience store?)

The act of sending a newletter or a card is supposed to be an act of community. We send them in order to connect in a way which is pleasing to both the recipient and the sender. The idea here is “with,” as in the Latin “com,” as in “communicate.”

The opposite of this is an ‘at’ situation, where you are just ‘talking at’ someone, to satisfy your own desire to feel a certain way (accomplished, witty, insightful, intelligent, friendly, holy). In this latter case, your intention is wrong, and it would be better for you to do something different. Go to the mall and buy some new socks, say.

In other words, the entire exercise of reaching out to another person deserves reflection, whether it’s a text, an email or a Christmas card. Contacting someone shouldn’t be a cold checkmark on a to-do list, marked as ‘complete’ regardless of outcome. Getting in touch should not be a reflexive and thoughtless action, as if the recipient is nothing more than a figure in a wax museum, there for your own amusement, to be prodded or bothered at your whim.

Greetings can be simple, but they should be meaningful. Questions and comments should be straightforward, so that the the purpose of these are evident to both sender and recipient, and the purpose should be a good one. Apologies should be sincere, and not burdened by excuses and more offense. Requests for favours and help should be made in a direct way as well, without padding and flattery and feigned friendship.

Write, speak and act as you genuinely think and feel; otherwise, remain silent. Let your words and outward actions match your heart. Be genuine. If you speak, let your words reflect who you really are. Don’t be fake, pretending you have concern where you don’t. Don’t be fake, pretending you care where you don’t. Don’t be a wax replica of someone else, no matter how good you think that other person is or was.

Be real! Be the authentic person that God made you to be. You are unique. Rejoice in that.

And if you are blessed with those who care about you, and who haven’t heard from you in a while, send them your nicest Christmas wishes. Christmastide lasts for weeks upon weeks, so you’ve still got plenty of time.

Tell them hello
Tell them what’s new
And if you like
Stick in a photo or two.

I’ll do the same over here. Brace yourselves, family and friends!

Family and friends
So faithful and true
Here comes your card
My greetings to you.