Friday, August 6, 2010

The Heart of a Gentleman

Yesterday was one of those nearly intolerable Maine summer days that make me wonder if I've time-warped back to Boy Scout camp on a tolerable summer day in East Texas. With a dew point near 70 degrees, it was so humid I thought we should rename the town, Fort Sauna. There was a fort here once, back in the day -- archeologists have uncovered evidence of it -- so the name is not completely off the mark, it's just that no one calls this part of the country Fort Anything, anymore.

Since it was so muggy, I decided dinner would be best followed by frozen yogurt, the kind with all the flavor and none of the fat, so I drove up to the local grocer for a barrel or two (not quite, but I felt like it). As I was preparing to leave for home, I noticed a young couple walking toward a pickup truck in the parking lot. Now, this being the eastern fingertip of rural America, trucks are as plentiful as tourists at the beach on Memorial Day Weekend.

He was tall, maybe six feet or so, and she was diminutive and slender, a Mutt and Jeff couple as my mother used to say. Both were in jeans and T-shirts, the local non-dress uniform for off-duty hours, and if this was date night, it spelled a movie and pizza at home. Yesterday's post was fresh on my mind and as they got to their truck, I noticed him opening the passenger side door and waiting with a smile while she climbed in.

Sure, the door was locked, but he could have gotten in the driver's side and reached over to unlock it, allowing her to stand there in the heat and humidity. But he didn't; instead, he was considerate and took care of her before taking care of himself. I have no idea about their relationship status and it doesn't really matter. What he exemplified was the generosity that lies at the heart of being a gentleman.

When a man is adequate unto himself, when he has sufficient ego-integrity that he doesn't need to rely on others to compensate for his own character deficits, he is capable of giving of himself freely, without expectation of return. I realize I could be accused of reading too much into gentlemanly behavior, but I really believe it does come down to the willingness to put someone else first. That's the essence of the message we're sending when we hold a door, assist with a coat, or take out the trash without being asked. There is enough of "us" to go around, we don't have to keep it all to ourselves.

(Creative Commons image of Mutt and Jeff by mghode1 via Flickr)

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