he day was wet and cold and the clouds indicated that this was set to continue but I had to go to school despite the weather. Because my mother believed I had a weak chest, she would dress me up if I went out in the rain. Most kids got away with a raincoat and a school cap. Not I.
First, there were the Wellington boots and a bag with shoes to change into once I was at school. Then there was the raincoat, so long that that it came nearly to my ankles. Finally, and worst of all, was the sou’wester for my head. Today, as I slog along the city streets under the pouring rain I think a sou’wester would be a good thing to have but for a child, on the way to school, it was a torment because it would lead to pointing, catcalls and sarcastic remarks.
“And don’t forget,” my mother commanded, as I left the house. “Don’t forget to put it all on when you go out for break.”
I bit my lip, put my head down and hurried off to school. I could already hear the teasing and imagine the other kids pointing and dancing around me as I stood shamefaced in the playground in my sou’wester.
Breaktime came. “Out you go,” said the teacher. I looked through the window. It was cold but not actually raining. Some of the other kids were already out there, a few wearing coats but no one with a cap or hat. I went to the cloakroom and put on my coat. I left the wellingtons and the sou’wester where they were and ran into the playground…
As I walked home from school, I had only one thought in mind. My mother would ask whether I had put on all my rain gear for break and when I said no, I would get into trouble. I went indoors and acted as normally as I could. At last came the dreaded question.
“Did you put on your coat, boots and sou’wester at break?” asked my mother.
“Yes,” I said.
“Good,” said my mother and went to prepare the meal.
Where that “Yes” came from, I had no idea. I hadn’t even thought to lie. It had happened all by itself or perhaps been an inspiration of the moment. I remember the feeling of surprised relief that flooded over me and expressed itself in the thought: “Is it really that easy?”
I learned a lesson that day. While I believe that we should tell the truth most of the time (if we cannot assume that what people tell us is true, then language ceases to have any meaning and we might as well return to grunts and whistles like the creatures of the forest), I think there are times when it is justified to lie.
“The truth can never hurt you,” people say. Oh, yes it can. It can get you into a lot of trouble and even cost you your life. I think that lying, when properly used, can even be seen as a social skill. It is certainly a first line of defence for the weak against the strong.
Since the “Day of the Sou’wester”, I have often had recourse to lies, always cautiously and never without a twinge of guilt. Looking back, I think I was right to do so most times and would do so again if the same case presented itself. The truth can be used to wound and lies can be used to heal. It is up to each of us, taught by experience of life, to know which to use and when.