What is the measure of a good man or woman? How do we decide what makes a person “good?” I guess there are several measures we employ. A recent wake and funeral mass reminded me of a few. Besides enjoying cemeteries, I seem to go to a lot of wakes and funerals. You probably don’t want to hang around me too long, if you know what I mean.
But back to the topic at hand: the measure of a good person. Is it their family? There are plenty of situations where the person is good but comes from the “wrong side of the tracks.” You know the story about the seed falling on a rocky ledge but growing straight and true anyway. The opposite is true too, that is, the absolutely wonderful family haunted by the specter of a horrible sibling or son or daughter. Usually the blame is placed on some latent piece of DNA passed down dormant through the generations. There the story usually goes like this, “yeah he takes after his great-grand uncle on his mother’s side twice removed, you know the one who burned the house to the ground!”
At a wake or funeral though, you hear this stuff after one has passed, from friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and sometimes spouses. You seldom hear anyone say something bad about a person after they have left us. But in some cases, when you hear that a person was a really good person from so many people, you realize that it isn’t that they are just favoring a family member. When you hear a son speak with such heart about a father who was so much their best friend that he had them be their best man; well, you just know the person was special.
Is it the way they are perceived in the neighborhood? You know how people talk in a neighborhood, and oh boy do they talk in this neighborhood. And it’s not unusual to find diverse opinions about someone, but it is very unusual to find a person who everyone consistently likes and claims, there goes a “good person.”
Sometimes a measure of a person is tied to their work. This can be tricky because to be good at work sometimes requires that a person not always be nice. And it is awfully hard to be in a job for a long time and be not only good at what you do, but also be “good.” Yet that is the impression that I had of this individual who recently left us. That he was very good and successful at what he did, and that he did it for a long time, and that he was a “good person” while doing his job. No easy task I can assure you.
For me though, the measure of a really good person is not just the things noted above, but it is the way that a person treats others when nobody is looking and there is nothing at stake, or to be gained by being nice. I am reminded of a story I once was told about this person by a friend. My friend said that they didn’t realize that this person knew who they were, even though they lived in the same small town. One day as they happened to walk past each other, to my friend’s surprise, he said hello, and not just hello, but said hello followed by their name. It was a small kindness, a gesture that could have easily been left undone without harm. But he had recognized my friend by name and in doing so caught them pleasantly by surprise. Now people say hello everyday and by name, but it is a choice we make. And this small gesture was a positive choice, and to me the true measure of a good person. So in this small town that we live in, let’s all choose to say hello when we see each other and spread a little cheer in the darkness of winter.