A week late, but I wanted to get it right

Jerry was driving home about ten o’clock Friday night when he spotted a young woman walking on the gravel next to the highway. Her thumb was pointed in the classic hitchhiker position as she walked. Jerry was not in the habit of stopping for hitchhikers, but this young woman seemed harmless. It was late at night on a cool evening, too late and too cold for her to be walking alone, Jerry thought. He slowed to a stop next to her, and she opened the car door and hopped in.

“Thanks,” she said to him. “My name’s Clairisse. I live at 304 Pine Street. Hey, I appreciate the ride.”

“No problem,” Jerry said as he accelerated onto the highway. He knew the neighborhood; Pine Street was in the older part of town, about two miles away. He had no reservation about taking her there.

Jerry glanced at her while he drove. She had long straight blonde hair, parted at the center of her head. A flower-patterned headband encircled her head. She had sky-blue eyes; and when she smiled, she showed straight even teeth. A brightly-colored shirt, blue jeans that flared below the knees, and sandals completed her outfit. Jerry reflected that Halloween had just passed; she might easily be dressed as a hippy for a costume party.

She gazed out the window, drumming her fingers on the handrest of the car door. Jerry struggled to think of something to say to her, but nothing came to mind.  All too soon, he was turning onto Pine Street. He stopped in front of #304, a two-story house that looked as though it had seen better days, although it was hard to be sure in the dark. “Thanks again,” Clairisse chirped at him, and in a trice she was out of the car and headed toward the house. Being a gentleman, Jerry waited until he had seen her open the door and enter the house safely. Then he sighed, shrugged his shoulders once, and drove home.

Saturday morning as he got into his car, he noticed something white between the passenger seat and the car door. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a knitted sweater, the kind that buttons up the front. He had not noticed the sweater Friday night, but Clairisse could have been holding it when she got into the car; she could have dropped it when she left the car. Remembering her address, he decided to return the sweater on his way to work that noon.

Jerry stopped his car on the street in front of 304 Pine Street. He carried the sweater to the door and rang the doorbell. He waited for a few seconds, breathlessly picturing the lovely Clairisse. He rang the bell again. Finally, a tall elderly gentleman opened the door. “Can I help you?” he asked Jerry.

Jerry held up the sweater. “Could you give this to Clairrisse?” he asked. Thinking that the man might be her grandfather, he added, “I gave her a ride home last night, and she left it in my car.”

Slowly, the gentleman took the sweater. “Yes, this belonged to Clairisse,” he affirmed. “You’re not the first young man who brought it back. I suppose you should know, though, that my daughter Clairisse died fifty years ago this weekend.” He didn’t say any more. He just stood there in the doorway, holding the sweater.

“Oh,” said Jerry. “I see.” He could think of nothing more to say. “I’d better be going,” he added, and he turned and walked back to his car.

The old man closed the door. Slowly he ascended the staircase to the second floor. Stopping, he knocked on a bedroom door. The door flew open. Clairisse was standing there.

He handed her the sweater. “It’s back again,” he told her.

“Did you get much of a reaction when you told him I was dead?’ she asked, taking the sweater.

“Not much,” he replied. Shaking his head, he commented, “I don’t see why you keep doing this.”

“It’s fun!” she exclaimed. She gave the gentleman a smile and closed the bedroom door.

Discussion questions:

  1. This short story is based on a common urban legend called the Vanishing Hitchhiker. What details does the author add to the story?
  2. How would you react if someone told you that a passenger who rode in your car last night had been dead for fifty years?
  3. In the song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” why does the captain want Dinah to blow her horn. Being that she’s in the kitchen, do you think the horn signals mealtime? Or what?
  4. Did you notice that the surprise ending to the story does not clarify whether Clairisse is a playful girl or is actually a ghost after all? Explain.

J.

Watch your language!

Some people believe that the world has become more crass and vulgar in recent times. I have recently noticed evidence to the contrary. In fact, one might consider these two incidents to be examples of delicacy (or perhaps political correctness) run amuck.

The first example comes from the grocery store. I am making a German dinner this weekend, featuring sauerbraten. The recipe calls for a cut of beef called “rump roast.” I discovered that the grocery store now describes this cut as “bottom cut roast.” “Bottom cut” instead of “rump”—seriously?

A few weeks ago, right after Burt Reynolds died, two DJs on the radio were talking about movies he had made, and one of them mentioned “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which also starred Dolly Parton. Except that the producer of the show bleeped out the first syllable of “whorehouse” every time one of the DJs uttered the title. Noticing this, the DJ expressed his surprise that the name of the movie could have been advertised back in the 1980s.

Basic courtesy toward other people causes many of us to avoid crude and insulting terms in our speaking and our writing. Even the Bible warns us to be careful how we speak. Modern translations of the Bible always use the words rooster and donkey when naming those creatures, although some traditional hymns and carols still include the one-syllable synonyms for those names, terms that were included in the Authorized Version of the Bible (the King James translation). Since I remember the nervous giggling those terms provoked in teen Bible class years ago, I do not mind the newer words.

But—again—“bottom cut”—seriously?

One wonders what the main cut of white meat from chicken and other poultry will soon be called if this trend continues. J.

Three unrelated thoughts

Much of my spare time this week has been spent proof-reading (or “copy-editing,” as they say in The Biz) my book about the parables Jesus told. I am hoping for a March 1 publication deadline. Because I have updated to Word 2016 since my last big project, I am receiving more editing suggestions from Word. Some of them meet with my approval; in other cases I disagree with Word.

Word does not like the phrase “whether or not.” After further review, I agree with Word that “whether” is sufficient in most cases.

Word suggests a comma after introductory words or phrases such as “therefore,” “of course,” and “so.” Those pauses seem unnatural to me, so I am largely ignoring those suggestions. I find it helpful, though, that Word is underlining them for me; it helps me to see where I have used such phrases too frequently and should remove them or rephrase sentences to make them unnecessary.

As in previous editions, Word 2016 dislikes the passive voice and suggests shifting to an active voice. While this shift might be appropriate in most literature, it can be very inappropriate in theology. A redeemed sinner is entirely passive when it comes to salvation; a sinner’s actions contribute nothing to salvation before being saved, or while being saved, or after being saved. God does all the work to rescue sinners. Until Word produces an edition that is free from heretical tendencies, I plan to continue ignoring its suggestions about eliminating the passive voice.

I only recently became aware of the grammatical suggestion that strings of prepositional phrases be avoided. (The amusing wording of this rule is to ignore them except when one is being led “through the valley of the shadow of death.”) Word 2016 underlines cases where it thinks prepositions are too close together. Unfortunately, this tendency singles out entirely appropriate phrases including “in spite of.”

 

I used some Christmas gift money to buy a DVD of the movie 500 Days of Summer. I did so for two reasons: I enjoy Zooey Deschanel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and thought I would like to see her star in a romantic comedy; and IMDB recommended 500 Days of Summer to people who liked Ruby Sparks. The movie is enjoyable as it covers a relationship between a young man and a young woman in a nonlinear fashion, more the way he might remember the episodes from a distance rather than experiencing them in order. As a narrator intones at the very beginning of the movie, it is “not a love story.” In fact, it is far more realistic than most love stories. Unfortunately, both 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks seem incapable of depicting a romance without suggesting physical intimacy beginning very early in the relationship. I’d like to see a romantic comedy in which the main characters do not go beyond holding hands and an occasional brief kiss. Maybe Hollywood writers believe that such romances no longer happen in the twenty-first century. (If so, they’re wrong.) Maybe Hollywood writers are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to undermine marriage and family. (It seems that way sometimes, but I suspect their motivations are more financial than centered on social engineering.) I hesitate to recommend any movie that I would be reluctant to show to my parents or my children, but I confess to enjoying 500 Days of Summer and expect to watch it again soon, to catch the details I missed at the first viewing.

 

This morning while I was driving to work, I saw a delivery truck (painted with the 7-UP logo) in the left lane of the street, signaling an attempt to merge into the right lane. Traffic was tight and other drivers were ignoring the truck driver’s signal, but I held back and made a space for the truck to change lanes. As a result, I missed out on a green light and had to wait through the entire cycle of lights at a busy intersection. Later, I left room for a car to enter the street from a side street. It seems as though such courtesies toward other drivers ought to be rewarded with an extra green light or two, but I guess things like that happen only in the karmic pages.

Scandal and offense

The English word “scandal” comes from a Greek word which sounds about the same. The original meaning of the Greek word scandal was a stone that causes people to stumble. Such a scandal might be a raised threshold in a doorway, a rock embedded in a dirt path, or a loose step on a stairway.

Some scandals were deliberate. Stairs in castles were uneven, but the people who lived in those castles were familiar with the tall steps, the short steps, and the loose steps. If they were fleeing a pursuer, they could confidently travel the irregular stairs, but the newcomer would be overthrown by the scandal.

Jesus called himself a scandal. Those who did not know him or recognize him tripped over him. Jesus came to rescue sinners, but he also caused the downfall of many in Israel who were not prepared to see Jesus as the Messiah, the world’s Savior, the Son of God, or the King of an eternal kingdom.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me.” Most English translations use the word “offended” to translate the scandal that Jesus identified. Since many people today are easily offended by even the smallest of things, the blessing Jesus spoke is easily misunderstood. Jesus was not concerned that he or his teachings might offend someone. His concern was that people would refuse to recognize him and would therefore be overthrown by him.

The world would be better if people were not so easily offended. On the other hand, the world would also be better if people took more trouble not to offend one another. When everything is offensive, then nothing really matters any more. But common courtesy requires us to strive not to create problems for our neighbors.

If person A says or does something that offends person B, person A might not to be blame. Person A might not realize that person B found those words or actions offensive. Person B has an obligation to tell person A about the offense. Of course this should be done calmly, gently, and lovingly. Once that has happened, person A has a responsibility not to repeat the offense. Purposely and repeatedly doing something that annoys another person is rude; in some cases, it could be considered harassment.

I know two very funny jokes that I never tell except to people I know well. Both of them could be offensive to some people. The humor in both jokes depends upon similar sounding words (important/impotent in one, supplies/surprise in the other). In each joke, the person who misunderstands the word is part of an ethnic minority which would pronounce one word to sound like the other. People unfamiliar with my sense of humor might come to the conclusion that I am mocking minorities, portraying them as stupid, rather than simply reveling in the play of words that sound the same but have very different meanings.

To some people I might seem oversensitive, too concerned about the feelings of other people. But courtesy matters to me; I prefer not to offend people needlessly. On the other hand, I am not shy about the scandal of Jesus Christ and the cross. Should anyone choose to be offended because I speak of Christ and the hope I have in him, they will have to address their complaint to him and not to me. My courtesy does not include participating in the overthrow of a life because I failed to tell them about the scandal that exists. J.