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February 4, 2024

I was in Omaha for a couple of weeks back in 1996 for training. I stopped at a Boston Market to get something to eat. Had never been in there before. Not since either, but on this occasion I had a lot on my mind.

They had a half-chicken meal on the menu. I ordered it and the person at the counter had a one-word question. “Side?” Ok, remember now, I had just ordered a half-chicken meal. I was not TRYING to be clever when I shrugged and said “LEFT?” with a question mark in my voice. My mind was somewhere else but it was as logical as I could be with such an unexpected question. He, of course, wanted to know what side DISH I wanted with my meal. I felt a little silly. English can be a silly language sometimes. There are a lot of ways to understand things and context is the only difference. SIDES is like that.

‘Sides’ has a lot of different meanings. Downside is a negative. Upside is a positive. Unless it involves a head. Inside jobs are generally negative. Except when it is very cold. Side jobs can be necessary but they are probably best when not needed. When you are outside it is often good to know someone on the inside. Those on the outside often find themselves looking in with envy or regret. Unless prison is involved. Those coloring outside the lines can endear or annoy. It can really be confusing feeling beside yourself. Lots of different perspectives on sides.

In contentions, there are multiple sides. Sometimes people without legitimate sides take one anyway. Taking sides is fraught with downsides. There is usually a ‘right’ side to any contentious issue. It is important if one is to take a side, to take the right side, but how to tell which one is right?

A problem is that there are at least two sides to any story when there is contention. We generally only get (or choose) to hear one of them. The information we use to decide comes from sources close to us. Family. Friends. Fellow congregants. Coworkers. People in our orbit. Effectively ‘get out of jail free’ type relationships. Blood is thicker than water. My country right or wrong. It is the ‘or wrong’ part that could stand a closer look. Rather than going along with wrong because of kinship, politics, geography, etc., might it not be better to see if there is another side… or if our side is truly the right side?

What got me thinking about sides is my younger sister L. She passed away last week. She was 64. She is the first sibling I have ‘lost’ to the ‘other side’. She specified that no one was to be notified of her passing until a full week had elapsed. There was no service. No burial. She was cremated. I’m not sure what she intended. Perhaps she did not want a fuss. Her wish was honored and I got a call late on day 6 from a cousin in Maryland.

My sisters got upset with me and have rather shunned me since my father’s death in 2007. I am not and have never been angry with them. It started with my sister B. I did not even find out what the problem was until a couple of years ago. It was L who told me. I did not know that she was angry with me until then. There is a lot behind that story also, but sides is what I’m driving toward.

It is often said that there are two sides to everything. That is only potentially true. People can take different sides of an issue and neither be right. That is what Abraham Lincoln noted about two ‘sides’ in a great war praying to the same God for different outcomes. One was obviously wrong. The other may not have been right either. When there is contention, there are sides. There may be only two sides, right and wrong, but wrong can have a LOT of deviations.

Taking sides in squabbles is not often a good idea. It often means taking something to which the taker is not entitled. None of their business. There are ‘sides’ in the situation between me and my sisters. People in my sisters’ orbits only ever hear (heard) their ‘side’. I’m not nursing ill feelings and do not have a cadre of people around me I complain to or recruit to my side. People in my orbit. If I did such complaining/recruiting, it would be only my side that was heard, or heard with appropriate context and accurate details. My side.

There is a get-out-of-jail-free card people in our orbits usually get. We are tolerant of their wrongs because they are in our orbit. Think family. Think children. Think some politicians. My xxxxxx right or wrong. Sometimes we can take sides because of a relationship rather than because of the right or wrong side of the issue. This is appropriate a lot of the time. It is those “or wrong” times that should be a concern.

For my sister L, sides cease to matter. I’m going to make yet another attempt to blot the line between me and my sister B. I’m hoping the edges of the sides have softened and the line between has blurred or ceased to exist. Or matter. B lost a sister too. Death has a way of focusing.

There can be legitimate reasons for division. Some are just silly but we stubbornly hold them until opportunity passes. Until people on one or both sides pass. Until things that don’t matter pass with people who do. My sister L mattered to me. Apparently not enough to keep trying to erase the boundaries that separated us. The boundary is gone now. So is L. There is a lesson in there I am going to try to take to heart. There are people who matter that I can still reach.


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