I used to clean my house from the inside out, bedrooms first and kitchen last -- where waste baskets and unwashed dishes waited to be dealt with. One day a friend dropped into my chaotic kitchen for coffee and company, and I apologized for the mess.
"Don't worry about it," she said. "You should see my house."
At a memorable dinner party one summer at the cottage, I put too much trust in my antique stove and its unreliable oven. The chicken wasn't quite done, and again I apologized.
"Oh," my guests said in unison, "it's perfectly delicious."
Then there was the time I was invited to a real "ladies lunch," with crab-meat salad and slices of fruit and something delicious I'd never tasted before stuffed into dainty shells.
"I wouldn't know how to put together this kind of beautiful meal," I said with sincerity. "For me, it's a 'lunch' if I make egg salad sandwiches and have chips with ruffles."
"Oh," said the gracious hostess, "I love egg salad sandwiches."
My friend who dropped in on my messy kitchen for coffee lied. Her house had never been that dirty or messy.
My dinner guests lied. The chicken was rare and chewy. But they swallowed it -- and the truth -- in the bargain.
The gracious hostess with the crab salad on lettuce lied, too. Sure she might like egg salad sandwiches, but she would never serve them for a proper luncheon.
Let's face it. We all lie. We do it because we're polite. We do it because it's the kind reply to life's embarrassing moments.
When someone spills wine on our best tablecloth, we lie. We mop it up quickly and assure the guest that it will all come out in the wash -- as we silently count the cost of a new tablecloth.
When someone admires something we're wearing we say, "Oh this, I got it at such a bargain."
We lie about liking the favorite sweater our husband picked out when he went shopping alone.
We lie about the funny drawings our children bring home. We say they're beautiful and then try to figure out which side is up when we hang them on the refrigerator.
We lie about not noticing the extra pounds our long-distance friend has put on since we last got together.
We even lie to the dental hygienist and tell her we floss every night. Of course, she knows we lie.
But that's a case where we lie to protect ourselves. All the other times we mostly lie to protect others. We want to make them feel comfortable, because they're friends and we love them.
Sometimes I think what an uncomplicated world it would be if we all had little lie detectors implanted in our bodies. Every time anybody lied, they would beep. Loudly. We'd have no need for judges and lawyers and juries.
Utopia! We'd know who was guilty. We'd know when the smiling salesman was just trying to make a deal. We'd know when politicians promised things they either couldn't produce or never meant to. Life would be simple, and we could trust everyone.
But what about the friends who lied about the chewy chicken, the messy house or the egg salad sandwich? I don't want their lie detectors to go off. Let honesty be the best policy in our leaders, our lawyers and our protectors.
But as for the little white lies that make us feel good -- the kind lies that make us feel loved andaccepted -- let them live forever, undetected.