In 1990, I attended a ceremony installing Bishop Francis George as the new bishop of Yakima, Washington. It was a fancy event, but his personal remarks were brief.
“I would like you to know,” he said, “that when I was young, I had polio. As an adult, there are times when I lose my balance and fall. If that happens and you are near me, don’t be alarmed. Simply lend me a hand so I can get up, and we will go on.”
“And as your bishop, there will be times when I may make a mistake performing my duties. When that happens, don’t be alarmed. Simply lend me a hand so I can get up, and we will go on. Thank you.”
I’ve thought of this often.
I don’t know what it’s like to have had polio or any other challenges people face. I do know I’ve been absent minded since I was young; I’ve often said most of my life has been an out-of-body experience. I work at it. And I’ve made it a practice to tell co-workers that I may forget things. If they see me deciding on an action and wonder if I’ve failed to take something into account, I’ve asked them to let me know. I want to do things well and I can use the help.
In our current “gotcha” culture, people are quick to make judgments about those who make mistakes. To be sure, many times people need to be held accountable for their harmful actions; various politicians, sports figures, corporate executives, and entertainers quickly come to mind. But if we make an innocent error, what a gift it is to have someone close to us not be alarmed and, instead, smile and offer us a hand. We can recover and correct it. And we can go on together.
Art work: “Hands of Emperor Maximillian I,” Albrecht Durer, 1506