Unconditional love

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Ever have one of those times when horror is heaped on horror and then when the day is over – just like the sunset at the end of day – an unforgettable moment gives you one of the happiest memories of your life?

For me it was the day I was shot.

My cousin Wayne and I were raised like brother and sister because his mother (my father’s sister) died when he was in the second grade. We were like most young people in our day; we saw our parents smoke and we wanted to try it too. (Smoking was in back then.) We did not, however, always have the money to support our experiments.

My parents smoked only a little off each cigarette, so when we got up in the morning after they had gone to work, we found a clean ashtray and found one or two butts that were clean and nearly whole. Let me say I don’t recommend this.

One morning we had gathered up our little treasures and placed the ashtray on the kitchen table. While I was straightening my parents’ bed, Wayne picked up a pistol he thought was empty and said, &uot;Stick ’em up or I’ll shoot.&uot; Shoot he did and the bullet passed through my body, missing my heart by one-half an inch.

Once at the hospital, everyone was so upset. I kept asking when my dad would be there. I knew he was the one person who would be calm and would calm me. I was totally mistaken. He wasn’t calm that day.

Many hours later, when I was in a room, my parents went to talk to Wayne and reassure him, take a shower, eat and return to the hospital.

Once I was alone, I closed my eyes to rest and try to calm down. All at once, in my mind’s eye, and to my great horror, I could see that ashtray sitting on the kitchen table and my dad walking in the kitchen door.

No way out! We were caught! I couldn’t even imagine how long I might be grounded for this stunt or how long the lecture.

You can believe I was nervous and in no big hurry for my mom and dad to return. When they did get back, I had visitors. What a relief! I knew my dad would never correct me in front of other people.

Still time was not on my side.

After the visitors were gone, my dad talked as though nothing was amiss. Just before he left, he walked up to my bed, leaned over to look me in the eyes and sternly said, &uot;What kind of cigarettes do you smoke when you are not gathering up butts?&uot; Really afraid that my dad was disappointed in me, I was frozen in silence.

Tenderly, he kissed me on the forehead and left. Lying on my bedside tray was a pack of cigarettes (I must add that I was a teenager at that time). Now I knew my dad did not approve of us smoking. But my tough dad had been shaken to his core by the day’s events. The message was, &uot;I am so glad I didn’t lose you and I love you even when you do wrong.&uot;

I am smart enough to know that if that day hadn’t been such a traumatic one, I would have been in big trouble. But because it was I learned how much my dad cared, twice. Once when I saw how afraid he was and then when he let me get away with something of which I knew he disapproved.

Children should be disciplined when it’s necessary. They need to learn there are consequences for bad behavior, but they should also have unconditional love from their parents and grandparents. They should know you discipline because you love them and that you love them even when they misbehave.

My grandmother used a switch when we misbehaved, but before she started she always said, &uot;I love you but I want you to grow up to be a good person. You need to learn to behave.&uot; I never doubted she did it for my own good.

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.

–Victor Hugo