One evening, I sat down across from my husband at the dining room table with a yellow pad and pen.
He politely marked his place and put his book down, readying himself to humor me.
“I was listening to the radio,” I said. “They were talking about saints and how each is generally known for a particular virtue. The commentator then asked what virtue we might be known for if someone were to look into our cause for sainthood.”
“Interesting,” he said.
“It was,” I said. “I thought it might be a good exercise to try and figure out my virtues and, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like your help. To make sure I’m making an honest assessment of myself. You know, concupiscence and all.”
“Sure,” he said.
I picked up the yellow pad and read the first word on the list I’d made.
“Impatience,” I said.
He looked at me for a moment to give me a chance to say, “Just kidding!”
When the expectant smile didn’t leave my face he said, “Impatience isn’t a virtue.”
“No,” he said. “What on earth would give you the idea that it was?”
“It was in that movie The Mummy. The main gal said it. ‘Impatience is a virtue,’” I said in the same sing-song voice the actress had used.
“She said patience is a virtue. Patience.”
“Hmmm,” I said, and crossed ‘impatience’ off the top of my list.
“So I guess that means no ‘frustration’?” I asked.
“Did you think, because they were kind of related?”
“No frustration,” he said.
“Darn it,” I said, crossing ‘frustration’ off my list. “I’m really good at those.”
“What else have you got?” he asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“Even when Jesus got angry?”
“Righteous anger? That might be virtuous,” he said thoughtfully.
He picked his phone up off the table and started swiping at the screen.
“It says here that righteous anger can be virtuous. So I guess as long as, from this point forward, you make sure your angry outbursts are righteous, then you’re okay,” he said. “Is that it? Have we found the virtue of your sainthood?”
“I don’t know,” I said mulling it over. “All my anger righteous from now until I die? That is a bit of a gamble. Maybe we should keep going just to see if we can come up with something a little less hit and miss.”
“Okay,” he said. “What else have you got?”
“You mean cheap?” he asked.
“Parsimonious,” I said. “Is it a virtue?”
“Yes,” he said.
I smiled as I put a little star next to the word on my list. Now we were getting somewhere.
He scoffed. “That would really be quite an achievement for you! Finding a way to make sure every last person until the end of the world knew you were a minimalist. It’s not enough that everyone you come into wordly contact knows this about you. Our mailman, the grocery checker, those poor Jehovah’s Witnesses that won’t come by anymore. No. You’ve got to make other-wordly contact too. You won’t rest easy until Adam and Eve know that you are a minimalist.”
“Well is it a virtue or not?”
“I think simplicity is a virtue,” he said.
“Same thing,” I said starring the word on my list.
“No, I think there’s a difference,” he said. “Simple doesn’t have the arrogant undertones.”
“I’m not arrogant, I’m just living a way of life that brings contentment, peace and that makes me a better person than people living as materialists.”
“That’s not arrogant at all,” he said.
“Plus, the term ‘simple’ in today’s vernacular can also mean ‘not-so-bright’,” I said. “The word ‘minimalism’ avoids that confusion.”
“I think if you want it to be a virtue, you’re going to have to go with simple,” he said. “You’ll get another virtue, humility, if it doesn’t bother you that people might think you’re dumb.”
“Hmmm, that is tempting,” I said. “But I’d rather keep the one virtue and not cause any confusion.”
“Smug but smart.”
Ignoring his comment, I moved on to the next potential virtue.
“Cleanliness is a virtue, but not with the way you practice it,” he said firmly. “You definitely tip that one over into vice.”
“Just because I like a clean house doesn’t—”
“Okay,” I said and crossed it off my list.
“Wasn’t it one of the Beatitudes?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything particularly holy about being absent-minded.”
I drew a line through it.
“I gave to charity that one time,” I said. “Isn’t being charitable a virtue?”
“That doesn’t count because you were trying to impress a guy,” my husband said.
“Yes,” he said. “In order for it to count, I don’t think you’re supposed to be trying to impress anyone except God.”
“But you became my husband.”
“Still doesn’t make it virtuous.”
“Tight parameters,” I said crossing it off.
“How about bad driver?”
“Why would that be a virtue?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel here.”
I drew a line through it.
“Being perpetually late?”
“Being rude is not a virtue,” he said.
I growled while crossing it off.
“There I go being frustrated again,” I said. “It would be really great if I could work that into a virtue somehow.”
“Not going to happen,” he said.
“Then I’m adding cleanliness back to the list,” I said, rewriting it at the bottom and putting a star next to it.
“Fine,” he said with a sigh. “How many is that?”
I showed him the list.
“Four,” I said, a little glum.
“So if you died today and the Vatican was looking into your cause for sainthood, the best description they’d come up with for you would be angry, cheap, simple and clean,” he said studying the yellow pad, his eyes brimming with mirth.
“It’s embarrassing,” I said.
“It is a little,” he said.
I pondered my predicament for a few moments.
“I thought this would be an easy exercise,” I said. “The saints make virtuous living look so effortless.”
“I mean, I don’t pretend to be a saint, but I’m not a bad person,” I continued. “I was optimistic I’d hit at least half a dozen virtues. I’m disappointed I couldn’t get past four.”
“People who are the best at what they do make it look easy. You have to remember all the hard work it took to get there,” he said. “The saints are in the major league of holy living but they had to make their way through the minors first.”
“I was hoping I could just toodle along in the minors and then kind of stumble into the majors like Tim Tebow,” I said. “Why can’t I just be good at it naturally? Like I am with loading the dishwasher.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess like anything else, sainthood will only come to a few people naturally and the rest of us are going to have to work hard for it.”
“It definitely looks like I’m in the camp that will have to work at it,” I said with a dejected sigh. “I’m in the T-ball of virtuous living.”
“You’ve got time to work your way up to the big leagues,” he said. “Before you know it, you’ll be Mother Teresa’s on deck.”
“I’ve got a long way to go before I catch up to Mother Teresa,” I said. “It’s daunting.”
“I think it gets easier with practice,” he said. “Start small and work your way up.”
“I hate starting small.”
“It’s a good chance to practice a little patience then.”
“Progress already!” I said, picking up my pen off the table.
“Patience is a virtue,” I said in the sing-song voice while adding it to my list.