The impulse to say no

by Dorothy Day

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The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008; abridged paperback: New York: Doubleday, 2011).

Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1950
It was a spring-like night tho cold. Then at 1 a man and women came bringing a drunken woman in and I was very harsh in not taking her. As Tom said, before dawn came, I had denied our Lord in her. I felt very guilty -- more for my manner than for doing it, as we could not have all the other women in the house disturbed.

At the 9 o’clock Mass and a man there so foul in smell that the congregation had to stay on one side of the church. In complete rags and filth. Then at lunch 2 men from St. Francis Church, Third Order members, the kind like California George, talking constantly of miracles, confraternities, dangling with crucifixes, difficult, but their minds set on the honor and glory of God. Certainly thinking always of him -- still, unbalanced, needing help. If I ever go off in the head, I hope I go in that way, haunting churches, saying beads, etc. A happy way to be.

June 20, 1950
Just now a knock came at the door and a young man wanted to spend the night. I told him to go eat but that we could not put him up. Always this impulse to say no. Yet each such encounter is an opportunity to see Christ in the other. Our brother. So I left the conference and told him to stay. He will make the conference tonight, Benediction, Mass in the morning. Who knows but that God would miss these prayers that might have been said, this praise, this thanks, this glory, no matter how inarticulate our brother is.

June 16, 1951
If daily Mass and Communion do not make people kinder, milder, gentler, it must be very saddening to our Lord. The problem of Tom. Power corrupts. Men become bullies when they hold the purse strings very often. They are rude, angry, overbearing, making others suffer around them. How to handle it? My belief is with gentleness, silence, withdrawal. People seldom mean all they say.

Anger is momentary. Some people will never apologize tho they may feel sorry. Everything is bottled up inside and it is unseemly, to say the least, to be always trying to pry people open, to make them open (as I consider myself to be, for instance)... My problem is to try and be gentle and kind to all. Even, equable, never startling and saddening people by changes of mood. Lifting an atmosphere instead of lowering it. ...

I have a hard enough job to curb the anger in my own heart which I sometimes even wake up with, go to sleep with, -- a giant to strive with, an ugliness, a sorrow to me -- a mighty struggle to love. As long as there is any resentment, bitterness, lack of love in my own heart I am powerless. God must help me. I can safely leave Tom to his guardian angel, to God, the Blessed Mother.

The talk with Jane was good because it made me see my own faults, flippancy, criticalness, gibing attitude, lack of respect and love for others.

August 13, 1951
Scorn, bitterness, scoffing, these are no weapons. Belittling others, not seeing Christ in them -- this too is to inflict wounds -- is to do to Christ what we are doing to the least around us. This is an expression of fear -- fear of being laughed at and scorned in turn. If we scorn others we will not win them. There is no love in scorn.

[These diary entries come from The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (Marquette University Press). The selections were made by Robert Ellsberg. The paperback edition will be available in October.]

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