Last week, in an article I wrote about the death of my Aunt Honeybee, I shared some experiences I had with her while I was growing up. After her funeral, some of my relatives who had read the article told me that they never knew about the affection I had toward her. At first, I was surprised by what they said. I had not anticipated that reaction from anyone. The comments prompted me to question why I really felt the way I did about her. If you didn’t have a chance to read what I wrote, you can read it here.
Earlier this month, Georgette and I attended a wedding. The groom was the son of a local businessman that we know. At the wedding reception, we were seated at the same table as a man who was a previous classmate of mine. His name is Tom and he and I were classmates while we were in eighth grade at St. Mark’s School in Peoria. We were not in the same class when the school year started, but a few months into the school year, I was transferred to the class he was in.
At the beginning of seventh grade, the large class of students that I was a part of was split into two groups — 7-1 and 7-2. The students in 7-1 were the smart kids, and the students in 7-2 were the dummies. Our teachers didn’t say that the 7-2 students were dummies, but we knew better. I was in 7-2 with my best friend Kevin. Eighth grade was the same as seventh grade — two groups of students: 8-1 and 8-2. Of course, Kevin and I were again in the same group as the other dummies.
A few months into my eighth-grade year, I was almost kicked out of school. There was an occasion when the section of the school where all the seventh and eighth grade students were taught had to be evacuated because of a terrible smell that, for no apparent reason, had quickly spread throughout the classrooms. It turned out that a couple of students had poured skunk perfume into the ventilation system.
The students who were responsible for the incident were two eighth graders — me and Kevin. Until then, Kevin and I were constantly getting into trouble. To us, the school was a prison. The principal was the warden, the teachers were the guards, and Kevin and I were two restless prisoners longing to break out and be free.
It was during our eighth-grade year that we bought some skunk perfume from Midget Studio, a store that was located in downtown Peoria. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but someone spoiled it by telling on us. After we got caught, the principal, along with the two seventh grade teachers and the two eighth grade teachers, had a meeting to discuss what they were “going to do with Harry and Kevin.” Before the meeting, the principal told our parents that one of the options they were going to discuss was to kick both of us out of school.
Fortunately for me and Kevin, the principal and teachers decided to split us up instead of kicking us out of school. I got transferred to 8-1 and Kevin stayed in 8-2. We were warned that if we caused any more trouble, we were going to be kicked out of school.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the smart kids in 8-1 weren’t so smart after all. In addition to being able to keep up with them, I actually did better than some of them in a couple of our classes.
After I was transferred to 8-1, I quickly became good friends with Tom. Within a month of us becoming friends, he started getting into trouble with me.
Anyway, while Georgette and I were at the wedding reception sitting at the same table as Tom, his wife, and some of their grown children, the subject of our eighth-grade year came up. It was at that time that Tom made a statement that I had never heard. He said, “Harry’s reputation for being a troublemaker preceded him. When the students in 8-1 found out that he had been transferred to 8-1, we all knew he had a reputation for being a troublemaker.”
Tom and I graduated from St. Mark’s 50 years ago. The first time I ever heard that the 8-1 class knew of my “reputation” before I showed up in their classroom was when Tom told us about it at the wedding reception. The problem was that I didn’t only have that reputation in school. I also had it on the school bus and in the family neighborhood where I grew up. Some of the people who thought I was a troublemaker had first-hand experience with me.
That’s where my Aunt Honeybee comes in. The primary reason that I believe I had so much affection for her was because she never treated me like I was a troublemaker. She was never suspicious or distrustful of me. In her eyes, I was just an energetic, challenging boy who had a lot of potential. When necessary, she would correct me or express disappointment in me, but the next time she saw me, she would act as though nothing had happened.
Instead of treating me like I was someone who needed to be watched and monitored, she treated me the same way she treated everyone else. She always acted as though she had no memory of my previous mischievous behavior. I was not conscious of the way she was treating me while it was occurring. In fact, I didn’t have a full awareness of it until I sat down to write about her after she passed away.
Over a period of two days, while I was attempting to put my thoughts in writing, a flood of memories rushed through my mind. It wasn’t until I pieced all my experiences together that I realized what it was that was special about her — it was her forgiving nature and her faith and confidence in me that I would learn from my mistakes and behave differently the next time. She expected me to be a better person, while other people who knew me expected me to continue to be a troublemaker, and then proceeded to treat me with suspicion and contempt.
I’m not trying to play victim by implying that I was mistreated by people who were offended by my behavior, and I’m not claiming that I did not deserve the reputation that I had. I’m simply attempting to point out how much of a positive impact my aunt’s attitude and behavior had on me.
I have to admit that I wish I were more like Aunt Honeybee in the way she saw and treated her extended family. When she interacted with us, she was kind, patient, and forgiving. I tend to be impatient, judgmental, and confrontational when I deal with relatives and others who are troublemakers. My preference is to verbally smack them down rather than build them up.
The odd thing about all this is that if my aunt were alive today and had a chance to read what I wrote about her, she would be surprised by what I said about her. The reason she would be surprised is that she was not consciously aware of the way she treated all her nieces and nephews. To her, there was nothing special that she was doing when she interacted with us. She was just being herself. It was natural for her to treat us with respect and dignity.
What was it that made her that way? I believe that God blessed her with certain gifts that helped her to favor the virtues of kindness, patience, and forgiveness. But it was more than that. Her life experiences and the choices she made had to also have a significant impact on the way she treated us.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I want to point out that I believe we all have the ability to treat our extended family members and the people we interact with in the same way that my aunt treated people — with kindness, patience, and forgiveness. Unfortunately, for most of us, this is not something that comes naturally. We have to consciously work at it. The key phrase is “consciously work at it.”
The importance of emulating the way my aunt treated other people is more important now than ever. We live in a society in which a large segment of our population has become abrasive, cruel, and judgmental, and their bad behavior has been facilitated by the fact that they now have the ability to hide behind their computers while they ambush other people on social media and other various internet platforms.
For Aunt Honeybee, it seemed as though all of this was a simple task. For most of us, it’s a difficult task, especially when we are dealing with the troublemakers in our life. But I believe that it is possible for us to become much more kind, patient, and forgiving toward others. For those of us who wish to do this, we have to be willing to voluntarily engage in suffering. If you would like to see what I mean by that, you should read Rising Against the Wind, which is an article I wrote earlier this month.
We have the power to positively influence others by being kind, patient, and forgiving.