Last week’s column brought some surprisingly negative email over the bad grammar I used to describe how Wendy and I helped rescue a high school classmate from his overturned dune buggy.
My syntax sin was that I wrote “Wendy and I” when I should have written “Wendy and me.”
One reader said the column left her “shocked and dismayed,” while a college professor added that he hoped “Chaplain Burkes does not use such incorrect verbiage in his chaplain duties.”
They were correct of course. To quote one would-be editor, “the correct pronoun following any verb is the objective pronoun: me, him, her, us, them. It’s never I or myself.”
I can’t begrudge their grammar peeves. I often cringe when I hear someone say “anyways” when they should say “anyway.” Worse yet, is someone who reports that they “did good” instead of “did well.”
This doesn’t compare to the rancor my elementary teacher wife has for the misplaced apostrophe. She’s actually taken her Sharpie and corrected signs in the store advertising “Apple’s for sale.”
Recently, she let out a shriek while typing something for class.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, expecting an arachnid.
“I accidently turned a plural into a possessive.” She was simply pale.
I shrugged. Guess everyone has his or her battles.
I save my battles for people who insist on using “comfort grammar.” I call it that because it is a language for those trying to console the bereaved. The language consists of at least four common phrases.
1. “Everything happens for a purpose.”
When I hear this one, I want to scream, “Really? Is there a purpose for drunk drivers, tornadoes or incompetent medicine? I haven’t found it.”
I think it’s better to tell the grief-stricken person, “God is here. I am here. We will walk through this together.”
2. “He’s in a better place.”
If you heard that after losing a son or daughter, wouldn’t you want to ask, “Why is that better than being with me?” Or maybe you’d be ready to conclude, “Then I want to go there, too!”
Maybe a better response would be, “Tell me about what you believe happens after this life.”
3. “I know how you feel.”
I actually heard a woman say while commiserating with a new widower, “I know it’s not the same thing, but I lost a dog once.”
It’s better to say, “I can’t know how you feel, but I’d love to hear what she meant to you.”
4. “God won’t give you more burdens than you can handle.”
The Bible doesn’t say that!
The phrase is a poor paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is more accurately paraphrased as “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to escape.”
The verse refers to the temptation to steal, lie or cheat. It has nothing to do with the quota of tragedies we experience. This misquote burdens people with a belief that God “gives” them calamities.
Comfort grammar isn’t about comforting the bereaved; it’s about wrapping tragedy into a neat box so we can assure ourselves it won’t happen to us.
The truth is, the gratitude Wendy and I received from our high school classmate had nothing to do with our good grammar. It had to do with being present when we were needed.
At the end of day, it’s not only about how you say something, it’s about what you do.