Tony Woodlief | Author

Good men

Someone told me recently, “You’re a good man, Tony.”

This made me think of a James Taylor concert I heard about once. In the hush between sets, someone in the audience shouted, “I love you, James!”

Taylor stepped to the microphone and replied, “That’s because you don’t know me.”

Do you ever feel some days that the people who think best of you know you least? Perhaps you’re in that shivering crew of harder-luck folks, or well-deserving folks, the ones who are liked least by the ones who know them best.

Either way, it gets hard to put one foot in front of another, doesn’t it, when the person you feel like you are, or are becoming, or have become, and the person people think they see — when these persons feel like different people altogether.

Who are you? The you inside yourself, or the you outside, the you they think they know, or perhaps — and this is most frightening — the you someone knows better than you know yourself.

So when I heard this good man stuff I cringed, cringed all the way down to the nub of a soul that still rattles around in this empty frame, and the outside me laughed and made appropriately humble remarks and did his best to conceal the fact that he is only polish and glimmer, just smiling skin over soul-sick bones.

If nobody ever calls me that again it will be years too late. Last Friday — Good Friday, good in the deep, rich, holy sense of that word — I drove with my sons to hear the lamentations of Mary. I craned my neck over the steering wheel and peered up at the sky that was like dimpled steel, and I was overwhelmed by the sense that while I am in no ways good, I have been blessed with so many good things, and chief among them these children and this dimpled-steel sky and a Church so grace-filled that it will not turn away even the likes of me.

Good man? Hardly. But I know four boys who can be, if God is as good and merciful and forgetful as I pray he will be.

On Key

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