Several years ago, we sped home from a camping trip to be on time for dinner at a neighbor’s. We’d stopped on the way to buy a box of fudge as a hostess gift and had just enough time to strip off our camp wear, shower, and change. We still had the smell of tent on us when we went next door.
“So, how was camping?” our other neighbor asked.
“Fine, except for the bear.”
We riffed on this for a few minutes, my husband and I, joking about the many perils of camping, until the neighbor asked, “So, was there a bear or not?”
“No, there wasn’t really a bear.”
She looked at me, a big, puzzled, annoyed look on her face. “So why did you say there was?”
And even though I’d just been trying to be cute, as they say, to make an entrance to the neighbor’s dinner party that was memorable and funny (actually, claiming we’d dealt with a bear just flew out of my mouth like a wad of gum at choir practice), it felt like lying.
And it gave me that squirmy, awful feeling I remember having the two or three times in my life that I really did lie. I’m saying two or three because no one would believe a claim that I have never lied. But I really haven’t. I’m not sure I would know how to do it. That sounds so precious, but, growing up, lying was a huge, huge bad thing to do. There were other things on the huge bad things to do list and I did some of them when I went away to college but I never lied. Or stole anything, but that’s another story.
So, I am astonished and awed by lying, particularly bodacious, fearless, in-your-face lying. Public lying. Lying to the guy on the street, lying to millions of people at once. I’m fascinated by the genetics of that, like how does one develop such an extraordinary facility, to be able to lie so effortlessly. She lied like a knife through butter.
And then there’s the no remorse. That is the most incredible part. The anticipated remorse, the shame I would bring on myself and my family, my mother saying the terrible, dreaded, barbed-wire encased words: “I’m disappointed in you,” the depth and horror of the sure result of telling a lie kept me honest my entire life. And my mother’s been dead for nearly twenty years. That’s some powerful moral guidance, I’d say.
I leave you with that. I said there was a bear but there wasn’t. I have to live with that for the rest of my life.
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