To Honor, or Not to Honor? A Question at the Center of Every Human Life
How a 1950 race across Tulsa saved my life and has taught me how to live for sixty-three more years (and still counting)
1. As one of the sweetest privileges of growing older, one often has the opportunity to tell stories and give advice to people who are younger.
2. One of the commonest amusements of still being young is listening to these old stories full of advice from elders, then laughing raucously behind their backs while going forth to ignore the advice as totally as possible, if only to prove it is possible to do so and still keep body and soul together, for those who believe they have a soul, or know what one is.
3. When I was a 16-year-old senior in high school paradise, back in the Dark Ages of 1950, after my parents had given me access to the family Nash sedan automobile, two friends of my younger brother Don -- John Barham and Louis Bruer from our church (Brookside Baptist)! -- challenged me early one night to an automobile race from (a) someplace way over in North Tulsa to (b) the corner of South Peoria Ave. and 51st Street near where we lived about five miles south of downtown Tulsa at 5533 S. Owasso Ave.
4. The father of John Barham, the driver, was Walter E. Barham (1909-78), state-wide acclaimed coach at Central High School, but my dad was Max J. Havlick, Sr. (1909-1992), a master electrician, Superintendent of Electrical Maintenance at the Bethlehem Supply Co. plant covering many acres with hundreds of employees using complex electric arc furnaces to convert scrap metal into equipment for Oklahoma oil fields. Since I assumed my dad was smarter than his dad, I assumed I must be smarter than John, and I would take back-street short-cuts while John came down congested Peoria, so how could I lose? Right?
5. No, not right. Oh, yes, I did win the race all right, but not because my dad was smarter than his dad, or because I was smarter than John, and certainly not because I recklessly dishonored every red light through back-street city traffic for the whole eight miles from North Tulsa to 51st Street.
6. No, I won the race because while I was running the stop sign onto Highway 66, the driver of a large interstate truck wheeling toward me honored his own life and mine enough (or at least disliked the tedious paperwork enough) to honk his horn repeatedly and barely miss me by two or three feet, before deciding, honorably, to keep on going down the road!
7. I won the race because my dad, a master mechanic with plans for an electric car in 1950, honored his family enough, and honored that old 1939 Nash enough, to keep it in perfect condition for me to misuse and dishonor that night.
8. I won the race because my mother honored her job as mother enough, and honored her two sons enough, to give them routinely a more healthy diet, and assign them more rigorous outdoor exercise (work disguised as "fun"), than any other parent we knew, and enough to keep me in better physical condition than most of the boys I knew, and I honored her enough to do whatever the hell she told me to do.
9. (What choice did I have?! In those days we did not have the Internet to discover how exceptional this was, how children really do not have to honor their parents and obey their silly, obsolete misconceptions about the world.)
10. I won the race because, for many diverse reasons, my schools and churches honored me, and more than many other boys around me, I honored school and church enough in return to learn some of the nuances of survival -- again, not so much my own doing as that of others performing tasks and opportunities they honored enough to do them well. Etc., etc., etc.
11. That night, at 51st and Peoria, I sat in the Nash a full five minutes before Barham cautiously pulled up in his family's car with Bruer in the passenger seat, and my brother Don sitting in the back. They sheepishly gave some cock-and-bull story to explain why they lost, but they were still happy, something about poor brakes honoring oncoming traffic and stop signs in order to stay alive.
12. I don't recall that then I even knew the word "honor," much less what it meant. But I do remember I saw the end of my life just a few feet away from my face, a life only preserved because, as I thought then, Providence had willy-nilly given me one more chance, which I must use to full advantage by learning everything I could about about everything in the world I could -- so I could maximize my chances of living as long as possible.
13. In my lifetime search for understanding, I have learned I survived that night for a million complicated, inter-connected reasons it would take another lifetime to analyze and fully describe, but which I stop to honor every single day; as for instance, because Tulsa had good spots in even its worst back-streets, or because even big old trucks sometimes have good brakes, or because anonymous truck-drivers, whatever their morals, might also be good truck drivers worth honor and respect, and so on and on, my friends, to the end of the million reasons.
14. One small slice of someone's life, but I hope it shows how anyone might tell the whole story of their life in terms of what and whom they honored, and what and whom they did not honor, and how their life changed drastically every moment they decisively answered the question, "To Honor, or Not to Honor?"
15. Not if, but when, you fail in your life (because we all fail at something sooner or later), it will result from whom or what you chose to dishonor.
16. And if, or when, you succeed in your life (because we all succeed at something sooner or later), you will succeed because of what or whom you honor.
17. (I cannot claim this idea totally original with me, but only how I understand it and package it as a scientific proposition universal in nature. Where I first heard it has no relevance here in this context, in my opinion, but would only distract from the discussion.)
18. What or whom you honor in your life, I am claiming, will bring back honor to you and your life -- not necessarily, however, from the exact what or whom you honored.
19. Meanwhile, the what or whom we dishonor in our lives can hardly be expected to bring back honor to us, and the greater our dishonor, the less any legitimate expectations of our receiving honor.
20. For scientists, I offer this idea as the Law of Honor (for empirical validation or disvalidation), that the amount of success with honor a person receives (Success HR) is directly proportional to the amount of honor that person gives (HG), and inversely proportional to the amount of honor that person withholds (HW) or to the amount of dishonor that person gives (DG).
21. In any case, since I first heard the idea several years ago, I have seriously reviewed the entire 80 years of my own personal life in terms of this principle of honor, and I've found it absolutely to be true, irrespective of any of the other philosophical or religious presuppositions of the capable person I first heard saying it.
22. We all know, of course, the ancient scriptures gave as one of the Mosaic Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days be long upon the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exit-Road = Ex-odus 19:12). And then in case you missed it the first time, "Honor thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God commanded thee, that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may be well with thee, in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Second-Law = Deutero-nomy 5:16).
23. As a trained historian, I have no direct evidence of any divine source of these ancient commands, but they make an eminently serviceable point, enough so that the biographies and histories and psychologies of the world all bear abundant witness to their essential truth, which applies not only to honoring mother and father, but honoring every one of the many other people and things we find along our way in life.
24. Specifically, from my own experience, I have never known a truly happy and successful man or woman who regularly spoke dishonor or disrespect of either mother or father.
25. Frequently, nonetheless, someone accuses me of disrespect by saying, "Oh, but you don't know what awful things my mother (or father) did that hurt me and our family!"
26. To which I always say (or try to say!), "No, I don't know, thank God! And please don't write us a book, or give us movie, about how awful they were!" We have enough problems of our own. Unless, of course, we are professional counselors paid to listen and nod while you complain.
27. Honor does not imply we must excuse or condone bad behavior, abuse, neglect, or mistreatment, but honor does imply we all must get over the bad things in life and transcend them by honoring the good things if we want to live a long and happy life.
28. If you cannot honor and forgive the offending person (Greek aph-iemi, passively "let it go," or actively "send it away"), you force yourself to carry this huge Grievance Basket around with you everywhere you go, a very heavy price to pay in your search of would-be sympathy that you likely won't get anyway, because others are either busy carrying around their own Grievance Baskets, or if they don't have one, they cannot comprehend why you or any other sane person would want to carry one with you everywhere you go.
29. Most non-carrying people know from experience it is futile to try to convince a determined Grievance Basket carrier to let go of that special, private Basket, because a wedding of sorts has taken place between every carrier and the terrible thing or things that keep that person from putting human frailties in proper, balanced, forgiving perspective with all the good and wonderful things that also happen in life.
30. To honor, or not to honor? A question at the center of every life.
Copyright 2013 by The Max Havlick School, Villa Park, Illinois 60181-1938, all rights reserved, "valuing -- and honoring -- each person's life as a priceless work of art."