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The One Thing They Won’t Forget

There are some experiences in life that just stick with you.

One of mine came courtesy of Victor, my friend VJ’s dad, who had become something of a father figure to me.

One morning when we were out early morning preaching to people on the streets (we were
Jehovah’s Witnesses), Victor decided it was a good time to teach me, my friend Danny, and his two boys VJ and Paul a life lesson. He waved us over enthusiastically and said “Hey, I want to show you guys something. But before I do, think about this. What’s the most precious thing you have?”

Victor was good at making us think about stuff like that. He was at his emotional best when a tear would well up in his eyes. His raw emotion always left an impact. We knew he cared about us.

For teenagers, the most precious thing could be anything. “My egg McMuffin!” VJ said clutching his greasy Mickey D’s bag like his life depended on it as we all laughed. “My relationship with Jehovah” I said. I was always so serious about God. Motioning to the car, Victor exhorted “Come on, let me show you something.”

We all loaded back into his Acura sedan and he drove us to what was then known as Alexian Brothers hospital in east San Jose.

Hook, line and sinker

I don’t know how he did it since it was for family only, but he got us up to the hospital nursery where we could see the newborn babies.

“See all these babies? Look at them. So beautiful and innocent. They have their whole life ahead of them. Hopefully, they have a loving family to care for them well. Right now they have everything to look forward to in life. See, they’ve even been given names.”

“But hey, you know what? You know what they don’t have?” he motioned us to lean in as we listened with bated breath.

“They have no reputation.”
And sinker.

Victor always had a game plan to his lessons. Once again he had caught us in his web of intrigue. We were eager to see how this one ended.

“Come on, let me show you something else.”

Two miles down the road we found ourselves pulling into the Calvary Catholic Cemetery.
We kids weren’t freaked out by cemeteries. We’d been taught the dead don’t exist anymore except in Gods memory, so we weren’t afraid of ghosts or anything. Demons maybe. But not ghosts.

After we all got down from the car, Victor pointed to a gravestone. “Hey, take a look at this tombstone. So and so. 1922 to 1956. He died young. Look at this one: So and so, 1930 to 1975. Some of these died young, some lived a long life.”

It was a bit sobering to see end dates on lives. Even for us invincible youngsters who thought we’d live forever. “All these people buried here came into the world just like those babies back in the nursery. And they all were given names” he said.

We were starting to get it now

“See that dash between the birth date and day of death? What do you think that represents?” We all pondered on that for a moment. “That dash represents their lives and the reputations they died with. What do you think this guy’s reputation was when he died? Or, what about this woman here? What kind of name did she make for herself?”

Victor paused to let that question sink in.

There were hundreds of graves. We were imagining the different lives all these souls had lived. We figured most were probably good people. Maybe some had done bad things though.

Another question broke the silence.  “When you hear the name Hitler, what do you think of?”

“How he killed people” Danny said. “We think of his bad reputation.”

“That’s right. He was given a name at birth but by the end of his life he’d made a bad name for himself.”
But think about the good name Jesus made for himself. Or, other faithful ones of old.”

It all made sense

“So when it comes down to it all we have to show for our lives is a dash on a gravestone?” I asked. Victor put his hand on my shoulder and said “Paco, more important than that is the reputation we have before God.” He always called me Paco. Then he turned to us with a serious look on his face. And as he cleared the lump in his throat asked “Hey, what kind of name do you guys want to make with God.”

I’ve always cherished the lesson I learned that day from Victor. Though I haven’t always been a sterling example of how to live righteously, he helped me appreciate that in life, we’re all works in progress. As such, I often reflect on the type of name I’m making with God.

I owe that to Victor.

I’m no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. But I will always be a child of God. As such, I do my best each day to make a good name for myself and build up a good reputation.

Maya Angelou once said she “learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Isn’t that so true? Think about the effect we have on the people around us each day. Whatever I do, I try to leave a feeling of goodwill with whomever I connect with. I urge you to do the same. Try. Things don’t always go as planned. People don’t always act right. We can’t control the things around us. But we can control ourselves. And we can convince ourselves to always do the right thing in any given circumstance.

If we do enough of the right things, that dash in the middle of our birth date and day of death will represent our good name and our good reputation.


Because people will never forget how you made them feel

That day, so many years ago Victor made me feel good about life and making a good name. And I’ve never forgotten it. People may forget the details, but the one thing they will never forget is how you made them feel – be it good or bad.

If we try, we can affect someone’s life in a positive way too. Just try to say the right thing. Try to do the right thing. Be positive and hopeful. The rest will take care of itself.

After Victor asked that last question he lovingly put his arms around his sons VJ and Paul.

And a tear began to well up in his eyes.

©Marc Townsend
Follow me on Twitter @maloanthony

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