Back when this series first ran, I was being interviewed one morning by Brian Patrick, then-host of the Son Rise Morning Show in Cincinnati, Ohio. We had been discussing my article, Johnny Be Good, and admittedly the conversation was a bit abstract for 6:35 in the morning. Near the end of the interview Brian asked me to give a concrete example and I dropped the ball. I missed the switch in focus and answered with more generalities as time ran out. It was my wife Teresa who came to me after I hung up and said “You didn’t answer his last question.” I was stunned. She repeated Brian’s question and said “He asked for a concrete example, and you didn’t give one.”
What my wife said bothered me all week. Maybe I have been too abstract. Perhaps a concrete example is what’s needed. Therefore, I think that the best way to make this concrete is to give a test!!! (You can thank/ blame my wife for the inspiration!)
Here’s your task: We have discussed Metaphysics and the First Principles, as well as the common and universal elements of Human Nature. Parents, if you’ve been sharing this series with your teenagers, then get a sheet of paper and a pen/pencil and try to write down all the “good” contained in the following story and explain why it is “good” by linking it to First Principles or Human Nature. HINT: Every paragraph is filled with examples.
(My apologies to professional authors who may read this very amateur attempt at fiction, I hope it is not as painful as dragging fingernails down a chalkboard!)
A Good Day for Johnny?
Johnny’s alarm clock radio blared into life with the music of BTO’s Taking Care of Business. Johnny was instantly awake and quickly hit the snooze button before the music woke the rest of the family. The red LED display was flashing 6:00 a.m., Johnny’s usual wake up time, seven days a week. He lay back for a minute and prayed his morning prayers; the Catholic triple-play (Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be), a thanksgiving for another day and an offering of the day back to God, no matter what happened.
That completed he got out of bed and stood before the mirror on the dresser. His seventeen-year-old body was still developing, but nevertheless he was muscular and well toned, evidence of a serious dedication to exercise. Dressing in t-shirt, shorts and sports socks he went downstairs to the back door where his runners were. Once outside, Johnny breathed in the cool, late September air. Though the sun was not up yet, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, perfect weather for his daily morning run. Johnny quickly went through a pre-run stretching routine and then took off, settling into a long steady stride by the time he reached the end of the driveway and having turned onto the sidewalk. One of his neighbours was out walking their dog and he waved good morning as he passed. By the end of the block Johnny had begun praying his morning rosary, a finger rosary keeping track of the ten Hail Mary’s per decade, his pace giving tempo to his prayers.
Johnny’s thoughts weren’t completely on the Joyful Mysteries that morning however because he was distracted by the phone call that he had received the night before from his school football coach. Coach Magee had called to tell him that several complaints had been made about how some of the players were acting off the field. Since Johnny was the team captain, the coach wanted him to show some leadership and talk to the players. Johnny wasn’t sure how to handle the problem and different ideas kept distracting him from his meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary.
By the time Johnny had come full circle on his run, he was no closer to a solution and he felt bad for having been so distracted in prayer. He offered a quick apology to the Virgin Mary as he passed her picture in the foyer of the house. The next hour was a whirlwind of activity for Johnny. He showered, ate breakfast, made his lunch and cleaned up the kitchen, all the while helping his mom as she made breakfast and lunch for his younger siblings. When Johnny realized that he had better leave or he’d be late, he grabbed his school bag, gave his mom a quick kiss on the cheek, wished his dad and everyone else a good day and bolted out the door.
Johnny opened the door of his Midnight Blue ’69 Camaro and threw his school bag in the back seat. He started the car and buckled his seat belt while he waited for the engine to warm up a bit, the throaty rumble of the engine music to his ear. His dad, a mechanic with his own business, had bought the car at an auction. It had needed a lot of work and together they had restored it so that it was better than new, his dad having added some aftermarket accessories. Johnny didn’t know the car was for him until they had finished, just a month ago. His dad had handed him the keys and told him how proud he was of him. Not only had Johnny been named team captain, but he had made the honour roll every year in spite of a busy schedule. Johnny had proven that he could be trusted with certain responsibilities and his dad was sure that Johnny wouldn’t abuse the gift of the car or the privilege of driving. That was a trust Johnny never wanted to lose.
Johnny backed out of the driveway and drove off down the street making sure he didn’t go too fast or rev the engine as its low rumble turned into a loud roar when the rpm’s went up. Johnny turned onto the main street and headed to Sara’s house. Now that he had a car he had started giving his girlfriend a ride to school. Since Johnny was a few minutes late, Sara was already out of the house, ready and waiting for him. She slipped into the car, gave Johnny a quick kiss and buckled on her seat belt as Johnny pulled away from the curb and headed to school. They exchanged small talk during the ten minute ride, mostly about the upcoming game on Friday.
At school, Johnny and Sara were quickly immersed in the busyness before classes started. They dropped their lunches off at their lockers (side by each of course), grabbed their books and had just enough time for a quick hug before they left in different direction to get to class before the second bell rang and the national anthem began to play. Their morning classes were different so they wouldn’t see each other again until lunch.
After second period, Johnny and Sara met up at their lockers and grabbed their lunches. Together they made their way to the cafeteria and sat across from each other at a vacant table. Making the Sign of the Cross, they prayed their grace before meals and then lit into their lunch since both were famished. Johnny was unusually quiet so Sara didn’t say anything until he had polished off his two ham sandwiches, a chicken wrap and a dozen carrot sticks. Then, as he was working on a large slice of banana bread she broke the silence.
“Earth to Johnny, come in Johnny!”
Sara laughed at Johnny’s surprised expression. He might be a big, six-foot-two captain of the football team, but every once in a while the little boy inside him snuck out and made her giggle.
Johnny had swallowed quickly when Sara broke the silence and he had to take a quick drink to keep from coughing.
“Sorry,” Johnny said, “I was thinking about what Coach Magee asked me to do today. I have to talk to the rest of the team about their conduct off the field. He wasn’t too happy about getting complaints.”
“So, what are you going to say?” Sara asked.
“I guess I’ll just have to read them the riot act, tell them to smarten up or I’ll suggest to Coach Magee that they be cut from the team. I can’t think of anything else that would work.”
Sara didn’t say anything for a few minutes, lost in though, before looking back at Johnny.
“Why don’t you take a more positive approach?” she said.
“I don’t understand,” Johnny replied.
“Don’t threaten them; instead appeal to their honour, their team pride, the fact that what they do individually affects the reputation of the whole team and that they should be good examples to the rest of the school.”
Johnny was intrigued by the idea and they spent the next ten minutes working out the details and actual wording of what he should say. As they were wrapping up Pete, the team’s star linebacker, came to their table.
“Hey,” he said with no hello or anything “did you guys hear about what Peggy did at Steve’s party on Saturday night?”
Sara’s eyes lit up and she leaned forward in anticipation. Peggy was the beautiful captain of the cheerleading squad and Sara was a bit jealous, and afraid (when she was honest with herself) that Peggy might set her sights on Johnny. Sara was eager for anything that might give her an advantage.
“Hold on,” said Johnny, putting one of his hands over Sara’s, their conversation still clear in his mind. “Pete, would she want us to know about what you’re going to tell us?”
“Are you kidding me? When she finds out that the whole school knows she’s never going to be able to live it down!! That’ll put ‘miss-high-and-mighty’ in her place!!”
“Then we don’t want to know about it,” Johnny said, squeezing Sara’s hand as she was about to interject. “We don’t want to get drawn into any gossip about anyone. That’s petty drama and it’s below us, not to mention what it does to someone’s reputation.”
“Okay man,” Pete said as he looked at Johnny with disgust and shook his head, “you wanna be the saint, fine by me, but you’re missing out on the good stuff bro!” Pete didn’t wait for Johnny’s reply before heading off to the next table to spread the news.
Sara looked at Johnny, her cheeks burning a bright red. She was ashamed about how eager she was to hear something bad about Peggy. Johnny was right. She was glad he had more sense than she did. She said a quick prayer for Peggy and thanked God for putting Johnny into her life. Sara leaned forward and gave Johnny a quick kiss, which surprised him. With no explanation for the kiss, she got up and said “ladies room” before leaving Johnny, a look of confusion still on his face.
Sara was nearly run over by a trio of girls who burst out of the washroom, all of them laughing hysterically. Inside Sara saw the reason why. Peggy was crouched in a corner crying uncontrollably, huge sobs shaking her as she struggled to breathe. Sara’s heart melted at the sight and all her jealousies and fears were put aside as she knelt to comfort her classmate.
“I don’t know what you did,” Sara said, “and I don’t care to know. I’m here to help, not make fun of you.” With that, Sara wrapped her arms around Peggy who buried her head in Sara’s shoulders and wept bitterly. After a few minutes, a girl Sara didn’t recognize stuck her head into the washroom and looked around. When she saw Sara and Peggy she looked over her shoulder and Sara could hear her telling someone about them. She then heard Johnny’s voice in reply and she relaxed knowing that he would be waiting outside for her until she exited.
Sara comforted Peggy until she had cried herself out. Keeping her voice low and soothing Sara guided Peggy to the wash basin and helped get her cleaned up. There was no hiding the red eyes but Sara brushed out Peggy’s hair and helped straighten her clothes.
“Class is going to start soon,” Sara told Peggy. “We’re in the same classes so I’m going to walk with you and sit next to you and you won’t be alone, I promise. And if anyone says anything I’ll deal with them, okay?”
Peggy could only nod her head as Sara led her out into the hallway. Holding Peggy’s hand, Sara began walking down the hall. Students parted before them like the Red Sea had for Moses. Peggy was too ashamed to look up but Sara squarely met everyone’s gaze almost daring them to say anything unkind about Peggy. It helped that Johnny’s towering presence was right behind her, it gave her a sense of courage she didn’t exactly feel herself.
The rest of the afternoon went by quickly. After school, Sara sat with Peggy in the bleachers while Johnny met with the team on the field. From where she sat Sara could see that Johnny’s words were having a good impact on the team. Several players were looking at their feet, ashamed of their behaviour, and she heard many of them loudly promise to do better. Only one or two did not look convinced, but Sara was sure Johnny could deal with them. As the coaches led the team through their practice, Peggy told Sara about what had happened on Saturday night, how ashamed she was and how she had ruined everything she had worked so hard for. Sara listened quietly, holding Peggy’s hand all the while. When Peggy was finished Sara gave her a big hug and did not let go. Peggy hesitated at first but then returned the hug, squeezing harder as she realized that Sara really did care. When Sara let go after a while she looked at Peggy and told her that the first thing they were going to do before going home was to head to St. Margaret’s so that she could confess to Fr. Gary and receive absolution. Then, if Peggy needed Sara’s company after that Sara was willing to call her mom and ask for permission to spend the evening at Peggy’s. They could talk some more and figure out how they were going to work through this, together. Peggy burst into tears again and hugged Sara, thanking her over and over again for being so kind.
Johnny pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. It had been an eventful day and he was in sore need of a shower, dinner and a large cup of hot chocolate, in that order. As he listened to the clicking sound of the engine as it cooled he glanced at the little statuette of St. Micheal that was glued onto his dashboard.
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,” Johnny whispered. In some respects, today had been a battle, but all in all, it had also been a good day. With that he went into the house and headed for his much needed shower.
Ideas have consequences
If we think that our lives are mundane, and that good and evil are only found in the BIG events or tragedies of life, we will miss so much that is around us. We will also be tempted to think that life is boring and that somehow we need to fill it with excitement.
However, if we think that life is sacred and that we are surrounded by an abundance of goodness, all of which comes from God and returns to Him proclaiming His Glory, then life is not boring. The world teems with goodness and every waking moment, every encounter with others, is so rich in meaning that maybe this little test will help us to realize just how much we’re missing!
Editor’s Note: This is the sixteenth article in an ongoing series, Ideas Have Consequences by Dennis Buonafede. It originally appeared on ICL in 2011. Check back next Wednesday for another article.