This Applebee’s brouhaha has got me thinking.
For a quick recap, let me explain, in case you’ve been either a) living under a rock in the social media world for the last few days, or b) so involved in your legitimately fulfilling life that you truly don’t need internet drama to fill your day. A pastor and her crew eat lunch at an Applebee’s after church one day, and, being a largish party, they incur the automatic 18% gratuity, versus the choose-your-own-adventure tip they had come to know and love. The pastor crosses out the required tip, marks a big, fat zero instead, and adds the pithy observation that she gives God ten percent, so why in the hell (religious allusion) would she give some hardworking human being she doesn’t know 18%? A valid point, if you are the sort of person who equates the creation of the world with the act of bringing a previously frozen basket of chicken fingers to your grimy table at your local Neighborhood Grill (proper noun, all rights reserved). Another server finds the ticket and posts a photo of it on /reddit (I thought that was for amateur porn?) with some sad sack of a story about the grace of God paying her electric bill and while you’re at it God, please pay for premium channels and TiVo instead of just this basic cable business, that would be great, thank You.
In what appears to be the most tragic twist of fate since the Olivia Newton-John song “Twist of Fate,” and possibly the worst thing to happen in the whole of human existence, the photo-posting server (we don’t say waitress anymore), was fired.
This led to the aforementioned outpouring of support? No, rage. Frothing at the mouth, ready to take up arms, seriously considering writing a strongly worded letter kind of rage. How dare Applebee’s fire that server! How dare that Pastor continue to live. How dare she, that beast of a human being, (is she even human?) continue to draw breath after writing a snarky comment on a receipt about a tip? Clearly this is evidence that God is dead, that Applebee’s is a modern-day Auschwitz, and by God, if I have to start eating lunch at a Bennigan’s, I will.
According to the comments on Facebook and the various tweets, along with a plethora of outraged blog posts (hello, pot. this is your friend the kettle. I’ve got news for you.), this pastor has committed the unforgivable sin of writing a dickish note to a server. And Chelsea Welch is a hero of our time, because she has kept the public informed that Pastor Alois Bell is a real jerk.
As I read through all of this, I had a funny realization. The comments from facebookers and tweeters (not the stereo kind), the bloggers, and the article-commenters. Alois Bell’s insincere apology. Chelsea Welch’s defense of her actions. Myself, for wanting to write, “Get a life,” and “It’s wonderful that people have all this time on their hands to concern themselves with the goings-on at one Applebee’s.” And also myself, for thinking, “People eat at Applebee’s?” I mean, besides my boyfriend. And that’s when I realized…every single one us is guilty. Guilty of being incredibly sanctimonious.
Sanctimony is a tough one. Of all the sins you can commit, it seems so mild. It’s not adultery or fornication, which I think of as ‘the fun ones.’ And it’s not the Serious Business ones: murder, grand larceny (I’m still not entirely sure what that is), hitting children and kicking animals. (Eating them is fine. Kicking? No.) Sanctimony is so tough because it accompanies that rare and beautiful moment: that instance in life when you are convinced, beyond all doubt, that finally, you are completely in the right, that you have done nothing wrong, that the people around you are the ones to blame, and because of this, you are confident in your goodness and those other people can kiss your innocent ass. Therein lies the problem with sanctimony: it causes our rightness to be unbearably short-lived, and suddenly our rightness becomes a new kind of wrongness. Now we aren’t the ones guilty of the mistake that other guy did; we’re the ones guilty of rubbing her face in it.
So I thought about Alois Bell for a moment. I even watched the video where she goes on local television and apologizes for what she did. She’s very different than me. From what I understand, she became religious when she was homeless and pregnant with her child. She had a calling, or she saw the light, whatever terminology fits her experience. I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but I certainly can understand finding something to hold on to when things are dark and seem interminably hopeless. She explains that she did pay the tip; the tip came off of her credit card, and besides that, she left an additional six dollars. I have no idea if this is true, and in all honesty, I don’t really care. What mattered to me most was her simple explanation for the note:
“I’m human. I did that.”
One time, when I was in the third grade, I found a note on my desk that said, “I don’t like you Nikki.” Forgetting for a moment the lack of a comma, I looked up from my desk, and a girl named Irene was looking at me. Clearly, this was an omission of her guilt. I immediately wrote a note of my own that said, “You’re a butthole, Irene.” (Note the comma.) Only I didn’t leave it on her desk anonymously, the way she had done to me. I waited until it was lunch time, and then, my friends and I walked right up to her and handed the note to her. She opened it, read it, and in that instant, her face crumpled in a strange sort of way I hadn’t expected and she started to cry.
Apparently, she didn’t write the note.
I’m human. I did that.
As human beings, we do stupid things every day. Sometimes those things hurt ourselves, and sometimes, they hurt other people. Sometimes they are annoying. Sometimes they are funny and silly and sweet. Sometimes, they are stupid. Sometimes, we get called on the carpet for what we’ve done. Sometimes, like that person who first wrote the note to me, sans comma, we get away with it. Was the note snotty? Was it incredibly rude and thoughtless and hypocritical? It sure was. But I have done that. I have been rude and thoughtless and hypocritical. I am endlessly grateful for all of the people who, when I pulled a stunt like that, gave me a pass. Who gave me mercy instead of sanctimony. Who simply let it go.
Eventually, this will all blow over. We’ll forget Chelsea Welch’s name, and she will get a new job somewhere that doesn’t serve recently-defrosted fettuccine. She will remember this, probably with a settlement check that could send her to the Greek Isles for at least a month, and laugh about it. We will forget our outrage in her behalf, and get back to the business of flipping her off in traffic if she is driving too slow for our liking. We will probably, eventually, forget Alois Bell, the pastor for St. Louis who admitted to the crime of being human, whose rudeness and hypocrisy filled a few slow afternoons at the office. There will be some other slight, some other wrong, some other thing to fill our hearts with righteous indignation. I don’t think we’ll remember any of it, but I hope, I hope I will remember one thing, that I will carry away the next time I open my mouth to say, “How dare she–” or “I would never–“, some of the wisest words I have heard in a long time:
I’m human. I did that.