I picked up the phone late one evening, and the voice on the other end was that of a colleague of mine. We had never spoken like this before, and I had no idea that he even had my number. We worked together for years, but I really didn’t know him that well. We would speak on occasion, but always casually, and most often, only in passing.
I heard from him the evening, after I attended a work Christmas party. A festivity where inevitably, as some point, as the night gets rolling, people begin to unload their stories of human woe and misery.
I don’t need to tell you the kind of stories that are told. You have heard them, and have probably helped to cultivate some of your own. Stories of half-truths and quarter-half innuendos. Stories that harness laughter from someone else’s misfortune. Tales that fill in unknown details with certain and false dramatic license. Stories of gossip. Ugly gossip, that rips people to the core.
Sadly, and unequivocally, I was one of the better story tellers that evening.
I enjoyed my role, as the poisonous jester. I made people laugh, but I made the mistake that everyone else was laughing along with me.
Until I received the phone call.
I made some ugly, unfounded claims about this young man. Claims that I had no business making. Claims which I didn’t know were true or not, but somehow felt empowering to let loose on a drunken crowd, in an effort to somehow feel important.
He was not at the party, but the young woman he was interested in dating was.
She wasn’t a particularly close friend of mine either, but I knew her better and greatly respected her. Or so I told myself.
I thought I was being funny.
His name came up, and I searched my brain for some gossip to tell. I assumed incorrectly that she was not interested in him, but she was. She was falling in love with him, and I can only imagine how my words weighed on her heart. I can only imagine what was going through her mind, as she was pretending to laugh. I have often imagines what it felt, deep inside, to have to smile, but be terribly disturbed on the inside.
The young man who called me on the phone was very polite and calm. He just wanted to know why I said the things I did. He wanted to know what I had to say for myself.
I was numb and speechless.
I kept blubbering on how sorry I was. I kept apologizing. Spinning my wheels and to this day, the same feelings of anxiousness and painful regret have once again bubbled to the surface.
He had mercy on me.
He didn’t yell. He didn’t tell me where to go. What unnatural acts I could do with myself. He just called me as a curtesy and a warning.
He gave me a greatest gift that night.
In a sense, he saved me from myself.
The scar of that evening has never fully healed. I still fall prey to gossip on occasion. I sometimes engage in hateful musings and dreadful innuendoes, but I am much better at catching myself and ending it as soon as I can.
I also stay away from people who gossip. This leaves my calendar quite open and fills my nights with social loneliness, but I prefer that, to the alternative.
His words continue to haunt me even today.
They haunt me a lot, and I am a better man for it. A much better man, because of his honesty and courage to call me out.
He inflicted a wound on my consciousness that never heals. A wound that offers me a chance to lead the life I dream for myself. A life without hatred, bitterness, and gossip. A life desiring love, hopefulness, and encouragement.
I heard a wise verse this morning.
“Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.”
You see when we gossip, we don’t really harm the person who can’t hear us.
All we end up doing, is drinking the poison ourselves.
When we lay stumbling blocks for the blind.
All we do is end up tripping over ourselves.
There is no need for any of this.
There is no room for gossip.
Life is full of glorious possibilities, if we would just connect and listen to the better angels of our human nature.