Never Complain, Never Explain

... and if you Google that pithy little saying, you'll find it attributed to the following people:

Benjamin Disraeli
Wallis Simpson
Henry Ford, II
Katharine Hepburn
... and a whole lot of other people who have been heard to use it.

I heard it first from Mae Bell ("first name Mae, last name Bell"), a woman who has now entered the next life, and because of this we here in this life are all much the poorer. She was amazing. She was an artist and quite the self-educated theologian, and when she opened conversations with the Rector of our parish with her words, "I have a question," he always knew he was about to dig into his library for an answer. She always asked hard questions. She was the epitome of dignity, always pleasant, and although she was nearly blind, she walked everywhere until very nearly the end of her life. And I never heard her complain. Never. Not once.

I noticed something about Mae Bell. This habit of hers - "never complain, never explain" - it was part and parcel of the rest of her. She did not complain, and so she also did not cultivate worry. Or doom-saying. Or fretfulness. She was old, she could not see clearly enough to identify you before you spoke, and she was sensitive to certain foods. But I don't even know which foods they were because I never heard her say! She just didn't complain or moan or worry or fret or make a spectacle of herself in that way. She graciously accepted help when she needed it, and just as graciously declined when she did not need it. She was perhaps a bit too intently interested (in everything) to be called "serene," but there was not a scrap of complaint in her.

And as to never explaining ... well, in the sense of "teaching" she did as much explaining as anyone could ever want. Or in the sense of elaborating a point of view - she could do that with few words and precise thought. But she never offered any kind of "excuse" for herself or her behavior or her past or her circumstances. That is what is meant by "never explain." It means "don't make excuses." And it means, "do not focus the conversation on yourself under the guise of explaining something about yourself." And it means, "own - and rightfully dispose of - your own crap instead of handing it to someone else."

Into what did it make her? What did she become by living a complaint-free and explanation-free life? It made her into a person who did not think enough of herself for such excuses to occur to her, as far as I could tell. She made her life about things large, cosmically and eternally large. She knew where she fit in the context of the Whole. She knew (even if she didn't know the song - but I wouldn't have put it past her to know the song) the truth of the Monty Python "Expanding Galaxy" song.

... remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth...

I think that, because she was not casting about for justifications and reasons and explanations that might get her off any hook
(real or perceived) with other people, she turned into a person who saw the rest of creation, "visible and invisible," from inside herself, past herself, and beyond herself. She saw...



the communion of saints



her God

There is a part of the canon of the Mass in which the priest says, "And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom."

When he says this part, I list in my prayers the now-departed people who have been good examples to me, and I pray God's grace for the "sweet repose and holy progress" of their souls and for my own following of them through this life and into the next. Mae Bell is always in that list. From her I am trying to learn that my life will be deepened and broadened and made more beautiful if I will never complain and never explain. Thank you, Mae.

1 comment:

lily4444 said...

This was beautiful! May her soul rest in peace.