Believe None of What You See

I remember my great-grandmother, Lillie Mae Jackson, sharing the following and one of her greatest witticisms with me: “Believe none of what you see and half of what you hear.”

I was a very little girl and wasn’t in elementary school when she shared that bit of wisdom. I don’t remember why she shared it with me; but as usual, I was very curious as to what it meant. So, I asked her to explain it to me. My beautiful, strong, and very wise great-grandmother explained it to me in story form. This is how I recall it.

One day while taking a leisure stroll downtown, a young woman, Sally, saw her best friend’s (Mary) husband (Paul) exit a café with a very young and beautiful woman. She saw Paul stop to hug the young woman and kissed her, and then he hugged her again. Sally was appalled that Paul would be so open with his philandering and hurried to Mary’s house to tell her the horrible news.

Upon arrival to the Mary’s house, Sally burst into the home obviously disturbed by what she had witnessed. It took several minutes for Mary to calm her down. Mary offered Sally a cup of coffee and pleaded with her friend to tell her what had her so upset.

Nervously rubbing her hands together, Sally told Mary that she had seen Paul kissing a younger woman. Mary was shocked! Paul had always been a devoted husband. Sally had always been a good friend. She and Sally had been friends since they were toddlers and had always looked out for each other. Sally had even approved of Paul when he and Mary began dating. Mary knew Sally only had her best interests at heart and wouldn’t say such a thing if it wasn’t true.

The news devastated Mary. Sally consoled her best friend and assured Mary she would always be at her side through this terrible time. With the news, Mary had decided to put Paul out and file for divorce. She would never tolerate an adulterous man. They had been married for ten years; and Mary had always been faithful to Paul. Now, he had ruined their marriage and did so publicly with a much younger woman.

After seeing Sally off, Mary contemplated her next move. In anger, she began to pack Paul’s belongings and set them out on the front porch. Mary was determined to nip her philandering husband’s actions in the bud. There would be no time for explanations. She would not be made a fool of—EVER!

Upon arriving home with a bouquet of daisies in hand, Paul saw two suitcases on the front porch. He thought that was quite peculiar since he and Mary had not made travel plans. When he put his key in the lock, it did not work. He rang the doorbell and Mary slightly pulled the curtain back but did not say a word.

Paul asked what was going on and Mary exploded with the report of adultery delivered by Sally. Paul insisted it was all a huge misunderstanding; but Mary wasn’t about to hear lies. Refusing to listen, Mary told Paul he needed to find somewhere to go and that she would be enlisting an attorney the following day. Paul was devastated. He looked at the beautiful bouquet of daisies, laid them on the porch swing, gathered his suitcases and left.

Mary cried day and night. She couldn’t understand where her marriage faltered. Every day Paul declared his undying adoration and love for her. How could he do such a thing? How could he embarrass her in public? The betrayal was almost too much to bear.

Paul had taken a room at the local hotel for several days. He was dumbfounded. What had he done to lose his wife? He adored and loved her. How could his ten-year marriage be over? Yes, he was a bit late arriving home; but it was because of a long meeting. He had just won a major account and wanted to celebrate the great achievement with Mary by bringing a bouquet of daisies, which were her favorite. What went wrong?

After a couple of days pondering what went wrong and after a visit with her attorney, Mary decided to accept a lunch date with Paul. They met at the same café Sally saw Paul kiss the young woman. For the first few minutes, there was silence. Breaking the silence, Paul asked Mary what had he done to deserve her wrath. With tears streaming down her checks, Mary shared what Sally had told her. Paul covered his mouth with both hands to stifle his chuckle. Mary was incensed at his behavior. She told Paul that he was quite insensitive and was making her look like a fool. Paul quickly took Mary’s hands into his and kissed them gently. Mary tried to pull away; but Paul held on tightly. He began to clarify what had really happened.

On that beautiful spring day, Paul met a very beautiful, young lady at the café for lunch. He hadn’t seen her in years and it seemed she had grown up so fast. Most of all, Paul could not believe how poised and dignified the young woman had become. Her name was Marie; and she had returned for Spring break from her university studies at Cambridge. She was the only child of Paul’s deceased older brother, Michael, who had been killed in action during World War II. When Michael left to fight in Europe, he asked Paul, who was just thirteen at the time, to promise to take care of his wife, Shirley, and baby daughter, Marie, should he not return. Paul didn’t want to hear his big brother talk that way; but he made a vow that cold winter’s day that no matter what, he would always take care of his sister-in-law and baby Marie.

When Paul’s family got the telegram that Michael had been killed in action, Paul remembered his vow to Michael. Paul worked three jobs to ensure the financial care of Shirley and baby Marie. Even when Shirley remarried, Paul put money in a trust to ensure baby Marie’s education would be paid. He paid for Marie to attend private schools from kindergarten through high school. When it was time for college, Paul paid for Marie to attend Cambridge University. Marie was a Rhodes Scholar, the first Black woman to hold such an honor. She was determined to make her deceased father proud by graduating from a European university with honors.

Marie had returned to surprise her uncle. When Paul and Marie left the café, they had planned on Marie coming to dinner so Mary could finally meet her. Paul had told Mary about Marie for years and shared photos of her; but the two most important women in his life had never met.

Mary was shocked, stunned, and very embarrassed. She was furious at Sally for almost destroying her marriage. However, she began to think about what had transpired. It was all a very innocent mistake that quickly spiraled out of control. Sally was looking out for her best friend’s well-being. They were like biological sisters. It was almost too much to bear. Just the thought of losing Paul was beyond reality. All Mary could do was beg Paul’s forgiveness. Paul apologized for not telling Mary about Marie’s arrival; but all he was trying to do was surprise her. Both laughed, cried, hugged, and rejoiced that they were able to communicate to clear up a misunderstanding.

After my great-grandmother finished the story, I understood. She insisted to believe none of what you see because it may not be what it seems. Believe none of what you hear because many of the most important facts may be missing. To get to the entire story, go to the source of the story. If that’s not possible, get as close to the source as possible. No matter what, do not take everything you see at face value. It’s too easy to ruin loving relationships and reputations by living off fragmented information. Exhaust all means necessary to get to the truth.

Although my great-granny died in 1981, her wisdom rings true whenever I find myself jumping to conclusions or obtaining partial information. It’s as though she’s sitting on my shoulder, whispering, “Remember what I told you?” Yes, Great-Granny, I remember.

My late great-grandmother Lillie Mae Jackson.

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