Tony Woodlief | Author


If you were to write down the names of everyone you trust — truly trust — what size paper would you need?

I needed the back of a receipt. There are ten names on this scrap of paper. Ten people I know would never share any of my confidences, never twist the personal things of my life into malicious gossip — or worse, that pseudo-prayerful gossip which is a cancer in so many churches, even as they police themselves against worldly novels and worldlier pornography.

Aside from the demographic peculiarities (nine are men, all are white, three — fantastically, for anyone who has survived American Protestantism — are clergy), there is the brevity of the list, and the question this raises, namely, whether its truncation is a consequence more of my failings, or the failings of others.

On the other hand, maybe I have a bounty, and I just don’t appreciate it. Read the papers for a week, and the privilege of knowing ten trustworthy, good-hearted people is revealed to be a blessing.

And it’s not like the rest of them are a bunch of bastards. Most of them, anyway. If I list the people who I know would use my confidences to actively work harm, I get about the same number, in fact. Ten true-blue people, ten low-down weasels, and the rest struggling, like most of us, not to give away what gets entrusted to them.

I could spend days on my list, weighing the merits of people, perhaps striking someone from my trusted column, adding someone to my frenemy column or my open enemy column or my means-well-but-can’t-keep-her-goddamn-trap-shut column. I could be mean-spirited and spiteful, and oh, how I would enjoy wielding the petty power of the accounts-keeping god.

But then I wonder: how many lists is my name on?

How many lists is your name on?

What can we do, between now and our day of judgement, to become the people who other people write on their trusted lists? I hesitate to ask, because if you’re anything like me, other people come immediately to mind, and what they might do to make themselves more trustworthy.

For a couple of you at least, I am your other people, and I’m sure you have any number of things for me to work on. Just as I do for you.

But when we each of us looks in the mirror, you and me, and we ask only whether we are anyone’s trusted person, what is the answer?

It’s probably worth spending a lifetime on, or what’s left of a lifetime, or what life leaves us when we aren’t busying ourselves with children and their endless needs, or work and its endless demands, or the world and its endless distractions, so many of them exquisitely crafted to keep us from this most basic question of communion, which I suppose can be cooked down to this: Who may count on me not to betray him?

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