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Smith-Galli: Greeting prompts reflection on season

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

It was his favorite departing line for years.

"Make it a good day," my father would say, clicking his heels and raising his hand in a brief farewell salute.

And folks would smile back -- twice. Once with polite acknowledgment. And then again, after absorbing his unexpected meaning.

I recently discovered that Dad "borrowed" the phrase.

"I only steal the best," he would say. "But I always give credit."

And he had.

Deep in some article archives I came across his notes and the story that shaped his signature greeting.

While pastor for a week at the famed Chautauqua Institute, he was asked to have coffee with Dr. Karl Menninger, the noted author and psychiatrist who founded, along with his father and brother, the Menninger Clinic.

Dr. Menninger's books were "written from a reservoir of skilled psychiatry and deep faith," Dad noted. He had studied several of them in seminary.

Menninger was 90 years old when the two met at Chautauqua. While his physical body had some limitations, Menninger's mind did not. Between ages 80 and 90, he had written 10 books, and was at Chautauqua to lecture that week.

During their coffee time, a conference attendee came over to speak with Dr. Karl, as he was frequently called. Upon departure she said, "Have a good day, Dr. Karl."

He nodded politely.

But when she was out of hearing distance, he said, "I hate that statement."

And he launched into the issue for which he had a burning passion.

"How do they know I want to have a good day?" he asked my father. "I may want a bad day," he smiled as he started stirring up all the angles.

"Pastor Smith," he said, "there's a problem with that whole concept of 'have a good day.' It sounds like all you have to do is drop by some market somewhere, pick a Good Day off the counter, and wear it out of the store."

He paused and asked the waiter for another round of coffee and then got to his point.

"You don't 'have a good day.' You make it a good day."

And he paused again.

"Don't ever say, 'Have a good day,'" he counseled my father. "Say, 'make it a good day.' We do have that privilege and responsibility. Every morning before I get out of bed, I pray, 'God, help me make this a good day,'" he continued.

"The responsibility for the day is ours."

As we approach the season of Thanksgiving and take the time to reflect and be grateful for the days we have had, perhaps it is time to look ahead with that storied greeting in mind.

With effort, we can look beyond each day that we have and see it as the day that we have been given.

How good will it be? That depends on what we make of it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Make it a good day.

This column was co-authored and edited by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, daughter of the late Dr. R.F. Smith Jr., a longtime columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Her e-mail address is rfsgalli@gmail.com.

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