The Truth Dare

 

Some phone calls change your Saturday; some your entire year. When my editor called, he couldn’t have known he would accomplish both.

 

“I’ve had an idea for a while,” said Ron. “It will make for a great book, and you’re just the guy to write it.”

 

I’m human. I was flattered.

 

“Is it about understanding women?” I asked. “About being sensitive to my wife’s needs?”

 

“Why?”

 

“I’m good at those things, Ron. I am most excellent.”

 

“Are you telling the truth?”

 

“Uh…why do you ask?”

 

“Well, that’s what this book is about: complete and total honesty. I want you to see if you can tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth for an entire year.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I said, “you’re breaking up on this end.” (I pretended to hang up, and judging from the prolonged silence, he thought I had.) The truth is, as my Native American friend Roy likes to say, I had reservations.

 

For some, a lieless year would be an easy assignment. Their natural habitat is the truth. Not me. I lie for a living. Oh, I’m not a used-car salesman or a politician. Nor do I write copy for bank advertisements. It’s worse. I am a humorist. I stand in front of audiences and tell stories. These stories are ninety-nine and three quarters percent true—at least as far as I can remember. But sometimes I add just enough salt to keep a tale savory, just enough falsehood to keep people interested. Some of the things I describe may not technically have happened, but they might just as well have.

 

After pretending to get back on the line, I leaked all this information to Ron as if he were my priest. He appeared to listen attentively, though he could have been working a crossword puzzle, texting his wife, or reading e-mail. I told him the assignment would be complicated by the fact that I have been a chronic fudger all my life. Most people don’t know this because I have become so adept at it. I fudge that I’m fudging.

 

And to be honest with you, I learned it at church. The church my family was part of seemed to reward falsehood. Nothing seemed to be more important than a person’s outward appearance, so from an early age, I learned to fake my faith. Whenever anyone asked, I’d claim that I’d been having my devotions. I’d sing “I love to tell the story…of Jesus and His love” when I would sooner have had my eyebrows plucked by spider monkeys than talk to anyone about God.

 

Our church embraced an impossible system of rules, which was rigged to render you miserable, no matter what you did. Ignore the rules and you were guilt-ridden. Follow them to the letter and you ended up either self-righteous or sporting a nervous twitch. As a result, I bathed my answers to adult questions in what they preferred to hear.

 

“What have you been up to, Philip?” The truthful answer was, “When I haven’t been coveting or gossiping, I’ve been lusting. And, honestly, I kind of enjoy all three.” But instead I’d say, “Just struggling to memorize the gospel of John, brother.”

 

Ron quite enjoyed hearing my confession, and instead of being discouraged by it all, he was more convinced than ever that I was the perfect author for the project. I mentioned once again that history did not weigh in on the side of my success. “My ancestors were horse traders, Ron. They sold slow animals then got out of town fast.”

 

“You’re our guy!” he said, and we hung up.

 

I still wasn’t sold on the idea, but I couldn’t stop thinking that I would love to read such a book.

 

If someone else wrote it.

 

Following someone’s yearlong experiment in telling the truth wouldn’t just entertain me, it may change my thinking and—if the author were honest, vulnerable, and wise—inspire me with hope. I mentioned the book idea to friends who have known me for years. I said, “I am considering taking a truth vow.” Without exception, their eyebrows shot up to their bangs, though one said, “Isn’t that a bit like giving up arson for Lent?”

 

Yeah, sort of. But that didn’t stop me from accepting the challenge. And in no time I encountered the first major drawback. Having shared openly that I was now solely a truth-telling individual, I found that some of my friends insisted on getting a straight answer to things they’d wondered about since fourth grade.

 

“So,” one asked, “do you remember in 1983 when we rented Rocky III and I bought taco chips and root beer and you said you’d pay me back later?”

 

“I’m not sure. Is that the one with ‘Eye of the Tiger’?”

 

“Did you pay me back?”

 

“Probably not,” I said, handing him five bucks. I hadn’t written a word, and already I was out of pocket. How much would all this honesty cost me?

 

Other questions troubled me even more, like could I stay happily married while being completely honest with my wife? Would people pelt me with ethical dilemmas? What are the side effects to subjecting myself to sodium Pentothal injections for a year? How honest should I be in a book about my struggles with faith, family, and the challenges of life?

 

In the end I agreed to write this book for the same reason some people watch NASCAR on television. I was eager to see what would become of me. Would my life change? Would I crash?

 

“You sure I can’t write about my expertise in understanding women?” I begged Ron during our next phone call.

 

“Nope,” he replied. “Come on, Callaway, you can do this. Tell the truth and shame the devil. Besides, I want to read it.”

 

And with those words, the most intriguing year of my life began.

 

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