Standing on a carpet of freshly mowed grass, I watch my daddy and his sisters pause with reverence before ridding family headstones of faded flowers in our hilltop graveyard.
Etched in this marble or in that decades-old stone high above a little white church in Raccoon Creek, W.Va., are the names of my grandparents, my uncles, some cousins, among others.
As new floral arrangements slip into place, I’m struck by the colorless spots bare of any sign that someone remembers, that someone respects the name found there.
A good name, the book of Proverbs tells us, is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
During this graduation season, how blessed we would be if our children could embrace that singular truth among the many admonitions they will hear.
Actions comprise a reputation, and that is the one thing each of us – no matter our wealth, education or upbringing – can control.
Tarnish a name and unleash pain not only on yourself but also on those who love you, on elderly parents and a daughter who must stand sadly by you through a lurid trial.
What guiding truth somehow escaped John Edwards?
Words of wisdom
Asked for that one principle that those embarking on adulthood need most, my friends supplied these:
In the cemetery, I ponder the headstones of my living aunts. One’s husband has been gone 25 years; another’s, nearly 20. My grandmother, in fact, had a grave waiting next to my grandfather’s for more than 50 years. Part of their sense of a life well-lived was devotion to one man.
Inside the seasons following my uncles’ deaths, my aunts have sat with the sick, visited the lonely, cooked innumerable meals, nourished family bonds. They might not have crafted policies to alleviate human need on a presidential scale, but they have salved it with their own hands.
My daddy’s sisters can go to these graves knowing that their names are honorable ones even if, as for the vast majority of us, relatively few people will ever recognize them.
The infamous John Edwards has another season stretched out in front of him, a nearly limitless chance to quell the revulsion his name elicits and to regain some measure of respect.
How much easier life is, dear graduates, when you never lose it.