Those were the words. One simple statement. Five little words. Spoken quickly and directly. First a brief hug, followed by a look that recognized that adventure was going to abound, then some kind of glare that probably meant I was going to be missed, and finally just as my foot would reach for the first step towards leaving, he would lay it down . . . “You’re on your honor.”
My mind would have been filled with the promise of high jinx, with plans of spending time not so wisely, in the greatest of crazy-funny ways, with hopes of avoiding all rules and breaking those that accidentally cropped up. And then he would add, “You’re on your honor.”
He didn’t tell me to behave. He didn’t tell me to make good choices. There was no lecture and reminders of rules and such. He went for something subtle and crafty. He went for the big picture, using tiny words that I could easily remember.
You’re on your honor.
Honor wasn’t foreign term to me. In fact, it was something that had been a part of my culture starting at a very early age. First, growing up in a large Catholic family, lots of time was spent talking about whether or not I honored my father and mother enough or in the right way. Like most kids, I was amazingly imperfect and caused my fair share of ruckuses. So, the term honor popped up regularly.
After all, honoring thy mother and father was and still is one of the big ten. I must ashamedly admit that it was one of my favorite venial sins to report in my weekly confession sin list because A) most likely I had done something to dishonor my parents within the past seven days, and B) reporting that sin was better than reporting some of the other nine. At one point in my life, I distinctly remember a moment when my father looked at my heap o’trash- (with freedom at the heart) – filled bedroom and quizzically asked me, “Is that how you honor your mother? Clothes everywhere, bed not made, school work – dishes – and trash on the floor. I’d say this is the definition of total dishonor, young lady.”
The term honor also popped up at my childhood home when it was our family’s turn to house the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The OLF statue made its rounds throughout the entire OLF parish. As the parish was quite large, the statue made its way to my family home only once every few years. But when it did, my mother was a force in teaching me what it meant to honor the life of Our Lady of Fatima. We read her biography, said appropriate prayers, talked about why she should be honored, cleaned and polished the statue, and in general acted honorably for the period of time that it resided with us. It was natural for me to equate the term honor with the term respect.
Finally, my childhood put me in routine contact with honor as all of my gal pals who moved with me from Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes to Seniors during the 1960s/1970s can attest. For at each gathering, whether it be a weekly meeting, a special activity, an overnight event, or a multiple week long camp, we Girl Scouts would proudly recited the promise which put us in a state of honor at all times:
“On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Girl Scout Laws.”
Through thick and thin, I pledged to do all that . . . on my honor. This type of honor was still about respect, but it was also about something a little bit more. We – my girlfriends and I – were respecting the world and everything that was in it. We were promising to give it our all to improve what we could, fighting for all that was right. We were placing trust in each other than whatever the situation, we would behave in a way that brought pride to ourselves as individuals. We did not want, nor did we need anyone standing right behind us to tell us the best way to behave. We were on our honor to just know what to do and we expected each other to do it. I was being held accountable by no one other than myself.
Hence, when my father told me that I was on my honor, he wanted me to remember that there were rules in the world and that some of them – for sure the big ten – needed to be followed. There was also a belief when he mentioned those words that I would be able to recognize that there are individuals out in the great beyond that have lived lives that deserve honor. Some people show leadership during times of great hardship. Some people lead saintly lives that should be remembered and revered. They have done things that I can only aspire to. Lastly, being on my honor meant that I understood and respected the basic rules of society that can lead everyone to the greater good. And that someday there would be no one other than myself to make sure that I led an honorable life.
Currently, I am on my honor. But, I am not exactly on my ordinary honor. Instead, it feels like I am standing on a tiny ledge on a high mountain in a vast world of what it means to be on my honor. I know that it is not the time for me to step outside the lines of my honor right now. It is important for me to look beyond myself in all of my actions. I have a duty to assess the simplest of actions in order to honor society appropriately. Honorable and dishonorable actions have so much more consequence today than they did a mere few months ago.
With so much unknown in the world, I am very thankful.
I’m thankful that I was sent out to practice being on my honor so many moons ago. It becomes important when it’s no longer practice.