It’s a word my sister used after the death of Justice Ginsburg, when it became clear that the administration would be moving ahead as quickly as possible to fill her vacant Supreme Court seat. My sister, who lives in Australia, often wakes up these days to a round of staggering news from her homeland, and puts in a pre-coffee call to one of us here in the States. It’s three in the afternoon by our clock. By now we’ve had some time to digest whatever the day has thrown at us. But that day was hard. That loss was larger than most. There was little comfort we could offer each other, and by the end of the call we had worn out our grieving and were both feeling angry and defeated by the willingness of those in power to rush through a nomination that will change the way laws are decided in this country for the next two decades. That’s when she used the word. She said, “It’s unseemly.” And I said, “If you’re looking for seemly, you’ll have to look somewhere else. As political leadership goes, we are living in a time of almost unimaginable unseemliness in this country.” Her two boys needed breakfast and we hung up shortly after that.
We all arrive with our ideas and opinions, which on the low side of things turn toward judgments and a failure to understand. We are all capable of “unseemly.” But here’s the good news. That word has an antonym, and if we’re honest and look around with a fair mind, there’s plenty of “seemly” to witness in the world. It sometimes comes in the mail, via eBay, like this one. Three sentences, written in a shaky hand. It arrived in a package containing four watchbands:
My apologies for my tardiness in my handling and shipping your
watchband to you. So I have enclosed 3 similar style watchbands
(free of charge) in the hopes that you will forgive me as this is not
my usual practice in business but I was in the hospital and was not
in the frame of mind to have put my store on a leave of absence,
but that is not your problem so I wanted to make it up to you! Thank
you for your understanding and hopeful forgiveness,
Marie Smith of Colorado Springs is an example of humility, good business, and seemliness. In the future, whenever I need a watchband, you can be sure I will buy it from her. (Though with her generous gift of four watchbands, I’ll be 87 years old before I’ll need to call upon her again. Thank you, Marie.)
Unseemly isn’t what we are, mostly, though it’s the one booming voice in a quiet room. It’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, as the homeless guy’s sign said in black crayon on cardboard: Come on man. This sucks. That’s honesty, no doubt, but for many of us, seemly is something we can adjust within ourselves. Our circumstances have given us the choice. It’s a tool to go high (when they go low). That old-fashioned word, seemly, let’s make it fashionable again. Let’s do it for Marie Smith, in the hospital, worrying about my watchband. Let’s do it for my sister in Australia who feels the grief of distance compounded by a fear for the future of her homeland. Let’s do it for Justice Ruth Ginsburg and all the well-intended lovers of the Constitution of the United States of America. And for ourselves, our girls, our boys. Our world. This pear-shaped spinning object of great beauty, depending on us as we depend on it.
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