The Version of Us That I Like Best

Dear Will:

It’s very likely that I’m giving us a little too much credit here, but I believe that my little family is pretty normal. We laugh a lot and squabble too often. We sometimes make a big deal of inconsequential slights and often say things we later regret. We mostly do our best to coexist in peace and harmony, but the fact remains that the parents are too often impatient and the teenagers are too often teenagers.

When we have guests in our home, however, we typically become our better selves—consistently more charming and tolerant and much more fun to be around.  We wag more and bark less, as the saying goes. It’s the version of us that I like best, as you might guess. It makes me wonder why we don’t invite dinner guests into our home every night.

That best-behavior business happens regardless of who has come to visit, but then there are those special friends whose impact on us extends far beyond a single evening at the dinner table. They do not merely move us to behave ourselves when they are around, they inspire us to want to be better all the time. They are in no way preachy or sanctimonious, they merely live life the right way. Something about their character and manner shows us a glimpse of our own potential. Their example alone is a force for good.

Exhibit A: Pat and Kevin and their remarkable children. Every time we get together with them Dana and I have the same post-visit conversation: Why can’t we be more like the Merkleys? (Then after a pause in which we both grasp the impossibility of that prospect): Or why can’t we at least be more like the version of ourselves that shows up when the Merkleys are around?

We were with the Merkleys just last week. And as I felt those familiar, I-need-to-be-a-better-person stirrings, I was reminded of a pledge I made many summers ago when I was working as a teenager at a YMCA camp in the San Bernardino mountains. It’s called the Raggers’ Creed:

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer,
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend to all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

I don’t mean to imply that our friends are the embodiment of truth, purity, strength, and bravery. But even without discussing or conspicuously displaying any of those ideals, they somehow make me want more deeply to strive for them. I think that’s what my friend Ron had in mind when he frequently proclaimed that he’d rather be at church gatherings than at any other place: It was an opportunity to be around—and be elevated by—the best people he knew.

Laugh. Love. Lift. That’s what the Merkleys do. Now if we could just figure out how to get them to join us every night for dinner. . . .

PW

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