I Meant to Say, “That Was Just Perfect!”
A Plea for Understanding Others from Elizabeth Rice Handford

Years ago Walt and I went on a breath-taking tour of Israel. Our bus stopped at a restaurant in Jerusalem for lunch. We were seated at a large table with perhaps 20 other diners, tourists from all over the world. I had thoroughly enjoyed the hearty soup and crusty bread, so as I left the table, I said, “That was just perfect!” and put thumb and first finger together.

A woman at the far end of the table grabbed my sleeve as I passed by her. “Bad! Bad!” she said, “That bad,” gesticulating with her hand. I sat down beside her. “I’m sorry. What did I do wrong?”

She was Brazilian, it turned out, and didn’t understand my English, and I certainly didn’t understand her Portuguese. Eventually, the woman sitting next to her intervened, and aid to me in French, “That’s a very vulgar hand sign in Brazil.”

I remembered enough of my high-school French to understand her and to apologize to the distraught woman.

When my Brazilian friend saw I could understand a little-very little!-French, she began an animated conversation in French. I told her I was a Christian, that I loved Jesus, and I didn’t intend to use bad language. We exchanged addresses, and for several years after that, she wrote me letters (in French!) to tell me how glad she was that I loved Jesus.

Recently there has been an effort to make this familiar and innocent hand signal convey a dark and threatening meaning, something far different from what we’ve all agreed through the years that it meant. If they succeed, it will be even easier for misunderstandings to arise between us ordinary Americans. Already accusations and counter accusations dominate our news media. We ostensibly speak the same language, but we hear words that are colored by our own diverse backgrounds and experiences.

So I plead for grace from each one of us for all of us. I ask that we give each other a little “slack.” Let’s not assume that people intend to be deliberately hurtful and rude. We have so much in common. Why can’t we focus on the ideals and values we all honestly do cherish? Home. Family. Friends. Freedom to earn a living. Freedom to worship God as we choose. Protection from violence. Peace.

You and I, and every other human being, were made in the very image of God Himself. He treasures every one of us so much that He willingly sacrificed His Son so that we could be forgiven of our sins and spend eternity with Him. Surely our commonality, our heritage in this beloved country, is worthy of our mutual trust and understanding. Ephesians 2:13,14 says,

Though you once were far away from God,
Now you have been brought near to Him because of the blood of Christ.
For Christ Himself has made peace between us Jews and Gentiles
[and people of all different colors!]
By making us all one people.
He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us.

This Scripture reminds us that we have infinitely more in common than what we differ in. So I’m asking God to help me to be careful not to assume I know someone’s motivation, not to look for hidden meanings. I want others to assume I’m trying to do right, even when I unknowingly use a wrong word. They deserve that same respect from me.