The episode begins with a ringing phone on a Friday afternoon. Donna answers and it is David, the boys who spent Thanksgiving with them. He is calling to let Donna know it is his birthday and he has no plans. Donna, of course, invites him to spend the weekend and invites his friend, Mousy, to come over on Saturday for a party. Donna arranges for Alex pick up David after work. When they hang up, David turns to his friend and remarks that it really isn’t his birthday.
Donna and Mary are setting the dinner table and Donna expresses frustration with Jeff. It is clear he has done something to upset her. Alex and David arrive home and David is milking the birthday angle. Jeff arrives home and Donna sends David and Mary upstairs so she can talk to Jeff and Alex. She tells them that she received a call from Mrs. Wilgus, the nosy neighbor, saying that Jeff and some friends were shooting at her window with an air rifle.
Donna and Alex press Jeff on this and he takes a long time to confess. Finally, he gives in and says he was actually shooting at her weathervane but hit the window accidentally. Donna and Alex lecture Jeff on the importance of telling the truth. Mary and David come down as the conversation is ending and Mary tells Jeff he will not go to heaven if he lies. David looks nervous.
The family sits down to dinner, but David excuses himself saying that he has a bellyache. He goes upstairs to rest. Donna and Alex go up later to tuck David and Jeff into bed. After the lights go out David asks Jeff he believes that you don’t go to heaven if you lie. Jeff says he doesn’t know. David confesses to Jeff that he lied about his birthday. Jeff tells him to keep lying.
The next morning Jeff coaches David to maintain the ruse. They go down to breakfast but David’s belly is still upset and he can’t eat. Mary brings out a pile of presents for David. He begins to open them and then flees to the backyard; he is overcome with guilt.
Donna goes to check on him and he confesses. It is not his birthday. An older boy excluded him and Mousy, his friend, from his birthday party so David told him he was having a better party, that’s when David called Donna. David’s birthday is really three whole weeks away. Donna comforts David and says they are still having a party.
Donna prepares food as Alex goes to pick up Mousy. He returns with a car full of boys. A real party is had. Jeff is allowed to bring out is air rifle and he sets up target practice for the younger boys. It is a wonderful party.
At the end of the party, Donna and Alex remind Jeff and David of the importance of telling the truth. The boys get it. They leave the room and the phone rings. Donna answers. It is Mrs. Wilgus inviting Alex and Donna to play bridge. They clearly don’t want to go. Donna tells Mrs. Wilgus they must decline because Alex is going out of town. They hang up and are faced with the boys who overheard the conversation. They ask if Alex is really going out of town. Donna confesses that he is not. She tries to explain the very subtle difference between good lies and bad lies. David promises to pray for her.
Truth is like vodka. Sometimes it is best served straight up, sometimes on the rocks, and sometimes mixed with a whole lotta fruit juice.
I think what I liked most about this episode is that it highlighted how complex the idea of truth can be. We are all told that the truth is always the best policy and we all tell lies. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has never told a little white lie, I don’t think I’d want to.
I do believe that the truth is extremely powerful and like all powerful substances it needs to be administered carefully. The truth is, that sometimes it is in poor taste to tell the complete truth. Lying can be good manners.
I have written before about my distrust of absolutes. My brain tends to immediately grow skeptical whenever it comes into contact with a strident “always” or “never”. Life is just too damn complicated for inflexible edicts. We are all just trying to make our way the best we can through a very complex world. Flexibility, kindness, and good sense will, in my opinion, get you further than strict adherence to any doctrine. We will all screw up, we will all hurt others, and we will all need to learn forgiveness.
I think when we are talking about truth and lies it really all comes down to intent. Why do we choose to tell the truth and why to we choose to lie? I think that “why” is incredibly important.
I have been the receiver of painful truths told with compassion and mundane truths told with malice. Once the truth was digested, what lingered for me was the delivery. The compassion made a hard truth go down easier and the malice left with me with an unnecessarily bitter aftertaste. We all value truth, but I think we also value good intentions and kindness. Those who wield truth like a sword with the intent to hurt are really just cloaking their bad intentions in a thin veil of integrity. There is nothing to respect about such behavior.
Plan of Action
I will serve the truth appropriate to occasion. If the truth is bitter, I will add a mixer and a nice garnish to help it go down easier.