My husband is to good manners as sugar is to Southern sweet tea.
Can you imagine ordering a tall glass of iced tea somewhere in North Carolina and it not including half a cup of sugar? The gall! The confusion! So it is for anyone that knows David for even a little while: David Hall’s careful consideration of you can be expected and anticipated, as sure as the sun.
Good manners, or an awareness and respect of others, is a gracious suit my husband has worn for so long it’s become a second skin. How did he get this way? Mostly, the world can thank his mother.
The third boy of three, David grew up under the southern grace of a woman who poured her life into raising gentlemen, meaning: Men who are gentle to all manner of people, in all kinds of circumstances.
It didn’t matter if you were born with a passionate temper always at the ready. Even if your God-given nature (and two older brothers) made being polite an especially heavy cross to bear, there were no exemptions to his mother’s rule.
Sharon didn’t lose sleep over how her boys felt about being a gentleman. Acting honorably, as she understood full well, is rarely dictated by one’s feelings or temperament. That said, using good manners in Sharon’s house was a non-negotiable absolute.
Sharon Napier Hall is no longer of this world. But her spirit – feisty, forgiving, and resolutely gracious – lives on in the lives of many: “Please stop what you’re doing, and look at the person with a pleasant face, for as long as they are speaking to you…” David says often, channeling his mother. “…and please have a follow-up question that shows you are actually interested in them.”
This is not a natural impulse for any child or teen. It feels burdensome, time-consuming, and punitive to introverts and extroverts alike. It impedes on freedom, and encroaches on fun. In fact, it takes a stunning amount of self-control for a person of any age to look up, pay attention, and listen well enough to care. Surely a life-time of practice could never be enough.
But oh, the rewards to the one who masters this skill at an early age: The world is their oyster! The fortunate few who learn to put on patience and self-control – who treat people gently – will experience the sacramental beauty of this world in ways others cannot; they will be richly rewarded with all the most praiseworthy things.
Loving parents persevere in the ongoing work of instructing their children to really see and really hear the person in front of them. In doing so, they teach (rightly) that all mankind is made of both eternal and earthly substance: All people have weight and mystery, and none shall be treated lightly.
Each individual is worth your time, child.
Everyone has a story, daughter.
No person is to be discarded, idolized, used, or ignored, my son.
“Please hold the door for your sister. And your mom. And all the slow-moving, chatty ladies behind her. Please hold the umbrella for the mother with a stroller and a toddler…” We ask our children to put on patience. We ask them again and again to look up and see the persons in front of them. We expect them to be careful with all manner of people, in all circumstances.
Good parents require and practice good manners, not to look better than the rest, but as a way of reminding ourselves that we don’t expect to be first and best! The world does not orbit around our axis. Are we here to be served? Or to spend ourselves for the benefit and beauty of the world?
“Please don’t serve yourself first. Please make sure everyone has what they need before you sit down to eat…” We ask our sons to put on self-control. We ask our daughters to practice tangible actions that make the world more human.
“Please put your fork down in-between bites, and ask questions of others at the table. Please be the first one to offer to help clear the dishes…” All these things are good manners, yes, but they are also a putting on of a very patient sort of love and kindness. We ask our children to be a part of the world, not the whole.
Sharon Hall was well aware that true gentlemen are made, not born. She knew that good manners don’t just descend on some boys like a dove from the sky! No, it takes a lifetime of putting on patience and grace – letting others be first – until it fits like a second skin.
This mother, while not perfect, was a wise and very good woman; her true grace as sure as the sun.
Peace to each you – mothers most especially – as you put on patience and gentleness again today. Know this: your faithfulness is not in vain; the love you sow will endure for a thousand generations.
This is a new day, made for you. These are your people, given to you.
Look up and receive your gifts, give thanks, and know you are so loved – now and forever.