Sunday, May 29, 2011

When it's right to be nice: A Ruby Story

Ruby was sitting in the driver's seat, pretending to drive. She was making that 'vroom, vroom' sound that kids make, the one that's cute for about 106 seconds and then begins to fall through the various gradients of annoyance to 'would you stop that!!' I've determined to be endlessly patient with the kids so I stifled my natural impulse to silence her enthusiastic recreation of the sound of an engine roaring. Diverting myself I realized that we hadn't called Tessa yet. We call every day when we are away and can't visit. Only once a day, at her request, for a few minutes. Both to let her know she is being thought of and to reassure ourselves that she is still just a phone call away.

I asked Ruby if she remembered Tessa, she stopped and thought a second and then nodded her head. Speaking would stall the engine, I guess. I told her that Tessa was sick and in the hospital and that I was going to call her. Ruby usually likes speaking on the phone so I asked her if she'd like to speak to Tessa. She shook her head, 'no' .. that engine was never going to run out of gas. I looked disappointed and she immediately responded, she's sensitive to a fault, 'Do you want me to talk to her?' I told her that I thought it would cheer Tessa up. She didn't hesitate, 'And can I keep driving the car after?' I told her that she could. She nodded.

The phone rang only a couple of times and Tessa's voice came on saying, 'Hello, gentlemen,' as is her habit. I told her that it was only one gentleman at this time because Joe was in picking up take out Chinese, but that I had someone who wanted to talk to her. I handed the phone to Ruby and I sat there and listened as she responded to Tessa with single word answers. 'yes,' 'no,' 'uh huh.' Then, suddenly she launched into a long monologue about being in the car and waiting for the food and that she had a sister named Sadie who was in the other car because she wasn't old enough to ride in Dave and Joe's car and how her sister would want to say hi too and that Ruby could say hi to her sister for Tessa if Tessa wanted. Whew, she's never said that much to me on the phone! After listening to Tessa for a second, she passed the phone over to me. Tessa came on saying, 'How sweet was that?' She was clearly cheered by her conversation and a few minutes later I could tell she was tired and rang off.

I told Ruby that it was really nice of her to stop playing and to talk to Tessa. I should have noticed a bit of a cloud cross over her face when I said this, but I didn't really pay attention to it at the time. Later I told her mom, and then even later her dad, about what had happened and how nice Ruby had been. First Marissa and then Mike had said to her, 'That was really nice of you Ruby.' She usually glows with praise but she didn't, which struck me as odd, it was only then that I remembered that little darkening of her brow when I first praised her.

Much, much, later, Ruby was sitting on my lap and she was in the mood to talk. She caught me off guard when she said 'Some things are right and some things are wrong.' I agreed with her that this was true. Ruby has a fine sense of right and wrong, sometimes in odd areas - she is a firm believer in the fact that little girls named Ruby should wear dresses, to her that is 'right' and anything else is 'wrong'.  'What are you thinking about?' I asked her.

She said, 'I didn't like it when you said I was nice for talking on the phone to your friend in the hospital.' I told her that I had noticed that she didn't like it, 'Why not?' I asked. She said, 'I wasn't being nice, I didn't want to talk on the phone, I wanted to play.' I nodded that I was understanding, 'I talked on the phone because it was right to talk to someone who's sick and maybe lonely in a hospital.' I was confused, 'But that's a nice thing to do.' She firmly disagreed, insisting that nice was nice and right was right. People should do what's right but that doesn't make what they do nice.

Beyond thinking, 'Who is this kid?' I began thinking about what she said. Indeed I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. Surely it's 'nice' to do what's right? Or is it? Shouldn't we all be ready to give up time to speak to someone who needs our attention. Well, in fact, I notice that lots of people on Tessa's ward seem to have very little in the way of company, very little in the way of attention. I notice that many people find it easier to 'make nasty rather than make nice'. So maybe we live in a world where people just being decent are somehow transfigured into people who are especially nice. Maybe we live in a world where giving time is so exceptional that it has to be canonized. Maybe we live in a world where little girls understand the difference between 'nice' and 'right' and the difference between 'good' and 'decent' but the rest of us do not.

The next day, driving home, we called Tessa and she said that talking to Ruby had cheered her whole day. She asked me to tell Ruby that and I said that I would. And I will but I think Ruby already knows.

And when we visit Tessa, in just a few hours, we have with us a butterfly professionally coloured by a little girl who wears dresses, loves to swim, and is addicted to telling the truth.


Anonymous said...

Your Ruby stories are wonderful!


theknapper said...

thanks....such a wise child

Sandi in Australia said...

Ruby truly is a treasure, and I treasure the stories you tell about her.

What a wise little being wrapped up in a child's body.

I was thinking of Tessa today and wondering how she was. I pictured her glancing at her shiny bauble of a bracelet and smiling.

Belinda said...

Yes, "who is this kid?" :) I hope I live long enough to find out, because she is going to grow into one remarkable woman.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Wow! Ruby is a deep one! Now I will be thinking for a long time about the difference between "right" and "nice".

I love your stories about Ruby.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi all, back from the hospital and Tessa loved the butterfly that Ruby coloured. She had us pin it up on the corkboard right over top of a photocopy of a physio exercise! Amazing how a kids colouring of a butterfly really changed the look of the room. And yes, Tessa has worn the bracelet constantly.

Kristin said...

Ruby is such a special little wise an funny, and smart and, yes, nice.

Noisyworld said...

There is definitely a difference between nice and right, it is right to tell your neighbour that you've just run over their dog but it's not nice for the person having to admit it or the person receiving such heart-breaking news.
Ruby really is very wise :)

Andrea S. said...

Still loving your Ruby stories

How did she get to be so wise?

Stephanie said...

Ruby is right. But I wonder if her comment has a bit more meaning to it as well. If you are doing what is right because it is right, you're not being nice, you're taking on a duty. When you do something that is right, because you want to do it, you bring something more than mere duty, and that adds the niceness.

Maybe it's just me, but I think "nice" has more to do with attitude and motivation than behavior. It's like the difference between apologizing because it's the right thing to do and apologizing because you mean it.

Nan said...

I love Ruby stories, but I think we get to be gifted with Ruby stories because you have the gift of listening, really listening. so I thank you for that and may Ruby always have people who L I S T E N to her!!!! So much is smooshed out of children (their spirituality in particular) because they are rarely surrounded by people who respect and listen with care. You do that. thank you.

Liz Miller said...

I was going to say what Stephanie did, but she said it, so I don't have to.

Tamara said...

I was thinking the same thing Stephanie posted. Ruby was just honestly admitting that she really wasn't doing it out of being nice. Probably felt like an unearned compliment.