Once, I was a kid, a boy, a teenager, a young man.
Once was,… quite some time back. Sixty years ago, then fifty-five years, then fifty. Fifty five years ago I was 17, and looking to graduate from High School.
I was surrounded by people who grew up during the Great Depression, many of whom then went off to World War II to fight against some of the worst evil ever perpetrated against humanity….up until that time. People who then came home and became our parents, our aunts and uncles, our mentors, our neighbors, our preachers and teachers, our coaches, our city councilmen, our mayors, and many, many other roles in our lives. I knew hundreds of these people, perhaps thousands. They were good people, no…many of them were more than good, many of them were great people. While I am sure there were a few who were “bad” I can certainly, personally vouch for the fact that most of those people were good. All of them had one quality which I remember them carrying visibly in their hearts at almost all times for other people to see.
That quality was integrity.
These were people who did things they did not have to do, just because those things were right. Because they knew they were right. Because they knew right from wrong. Because they didn’t blur the lines between right and wrong. Because they did not fool themselves into thinking that they could do wrong and call it right. Because they did not try to bend the facts.They knew nothing about “spin”. To them, right and left meant in which hand you held your pencil.
Because they had seen starvation as children, and unjustified death as young adults, and they had fought against those things, and because they had overcome those things. They had gone to War and seen and suffered unthinkable things. They had freed Jewish people from the death camps of the Nazis. They had freed prisoners of war from the death camps of the Japanese.
These were people who would give you back a quarter in change if you made a mistake and gave it to them accidentally. These were the people who would give you the extra food they grew in their garden. They were the people who would change your flat tire in order to get you off the road. These were the people who would literally give you the “shirt off of their back”
They were people who would arrive fifteen minutes early for an appointment, or to a meeting, or to church, or to take their kids to school. These were the people who tried to instill all of these values into their children.
Did they fail? How did they fail?
Integrity. They had integrity.
Somewhere, somehow over the last sixty years integrity has, for the most part, been misplaced. It’s been relocated. It’s in the closet. Up on the top shelf, where the old hats are kept. It’s hard to reach. Some people get their flashlights out and find it still. But it’s not easy to come by. It’s not convenient to use. It’s difficult to have integrity. More difficult still to maintain. I know some people who have it. I have some family and friends who have it. I’ve tried my best to have it, perhaps I’ve failed or simply have too high expectations for that old quality.
I saw integrity in action this morning over a dollar that didn’t have to be given to someone, but was because a man had integrity. A single dollar. It might never have been missed, but the old man who gave it back had that integrity. Shorten that word down and you get “grit” This man had grit. Our parents generation had true grit. Integrity.
It’s a small thing, but a big thing. I knew at that point, I had not failed totally. When I stop and think about it, I feel perhaps I have not failed. Integrity lives on perhaps. I see other examples of it in other places in which I live my life on a daily basis. I am very grateful that I see it. It is something which needs to continue to be passed on. Our politicians and leaders certainly need to find it. To many of them integrity is a dirty word.
The people in the generations who were alive when I was a kid, a little boy, a young man….they knew integrity. They held themselves accountable for doing the right thing. They didn’t have to have anyone else, or any other thing besides their conscious to guide them. They were not perfect, but their spines were straighter than many in this day and age, including our leaders in many areas. Perhaps especially those.
I’d like to simply just thank those people of the greatest generation for what they all meant to me. I’ve fallen short of their example, but I swear I’ve tried….and I will continue to do so until my last breath.