Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Wait

H.L. Mencken
H.L.Mencken, "the Sage of Baltimore" told his friends that he wanted his epitaph to read:

"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl."

Author Harry Golden and others took great umbrage at that and among other things, they pointed out that Mencken was an unrepentant "woman hater" and who in the world did he think he was judging which ones were homely, etc.

Well, I don't want to get into all that, but as far as I'm concerned, it was
just his way of saying "be nice to someone, for once, who wasn't all that used to people being nice to."
Perhaps I'm naive and a“wink” in Mencken's time conveyed a more sinister message than it does today. Maybe smile would be a better word.

Anyway, that's how I've always thought of it.

And I do it a lot.

When I spot young children and their parents, I not only smile at them, but I flat out tell their parents (in a loud voice the kids are sure to hear) how pretty and obviously intellegent their children are and offer my congratulations.

Bystanders who witness this bit of harmless flattery either don't pay any attention or they just think I'm another slightly “off his rocker” old man making a fuss over nothing.

So be it.

But years ago I reported on a very sad story with a tragic ending, the details of which I've mostly forgotten, but I'll always remember something the broken girl said about her life. Among other things, she said, “ one ever told me that I was pretty.” 

Those words broke my heart.

I have no idea how much that contributed to her tragedy, but it certainly changed my life; at least out in public where I often encounter families with little children. Although others in the stores or wherever I am at the time assume I'm probably slightly bonkers, I never hesitate to go out of my way to loudly praise the beauty and manners of the little ones (unless of course they're in the process of acting like savages.)

These short bursts of unexpected praise from a complete stranger has got to be flattering, even if no one within earshot of my voice believes a word of what that wacky old man (me) is saying.

Except the little children and their parents.