The day dawned crisp and clear in Chicago today, and when I looked out my hotel window I enjoyed the reflections in one of the mirrored towers of the hotel complex. Mirrored windows are a common feature in those hotels that are so ubiquitous around large American airports, but even so the reflections looked pretty indeed on a blue sky morning.
If you were lucky, you grew up in a family that had at least one blunt older relative.
It could be an aunt, or an uncle, or a grandparent, but the truth-telling senior citizen fulfilled a crucial role in any family. They were past the point of worrying about whether people liked them or not, and they didn’t care whether their comments caused other family members to roll their eyes. They obviously thought young kids were better served by being exposed to the truth about the cold,hard world rather than sugar-coated fairy tales. So, while your Mom might care pretend to like your ’70s-era long hair, your Aunt Mabel would tell you you looked like an idiot — and, as anyone looking back on ’70s photos knows, Aunt Mabel was right.
The plain-spoken family curmudgeon, freed by advanced age from compliance with all social niceties were worth a careful listen. Their wisdom drew upon years of brutal human experience and typically was expressed in memorable one-liners that packed a punch and stayed with you, always.
I recall talking to my grandmother about some conversation with a co-worker. The co-worker had made some mildly encouraging statement, then said “but” and went on to stake out a position contrary to my own. I interpreted the initial part of the sentence as a hopeful sign that I might persuade the co-worker to come around to my position. My grandmother chuckled, shook her head, and said: “Pay no attention to anything that comes before the ‘but.'” And, of course, she was right. The initial comments were meaningless blather and just an effort to soften the hard core expressed after the “but.”
I still think of my grandmother whenever I hear someone use “but” in a sentence, and I remember that it is what comes after the “but” that counts.