By Terry Pettee
More than once I have laid claim to being an amateur etymologist. An etymologist is a person with an interest in the origin and changes in the meaning of words. That may seem an odd area of interest but no stranger than a person dedicating their life to the study of mold or seaweed or the formation of clouds.
For some inexplicable reason words come to mind that are similar in syllable sound and identical in spelling but different in meaning. Shame and fame are the first example that occur to me. The final three letters sound and are spelled the same but the words are opposite in meaning.
Both words are associated with character and behavior. Both words are associated with recognition, whether how we see ourselves or how others see us.
Shame is embarrassment and humiliation.
Fame is esteem and respect.
I have reached an age where I strongly suspect every honest person can look back on their life and see at least some measure of both.
In the shame department I can think of occasions when I could have been better, should have done better and would have done better if I had the wisdom and experience life has since taught me. I will spare you the specifics of my shame because, quite frankly, I am ashamed and embarrassed by some of the stupid antics of my youth. In fact, I keep those antics a closely guarded secret since that is not how I want to be regarded or remembered.
There are two more words of the same nature that come to my mind. They are the words same and became. Those words too are opposite in meaning. To remain the same is never to change while became means to change into something different, hopefully something better.
To remain the same is not such a bad thing if a person begins life wise, mature, honest and noble in character. I confess I did not begin life in that condition. I have attempted to develop those attributes throughout my adult life and believe I have attained some measure of success, although I have not fully achieved my fullest aspirations.
At this moment I am inclined to remember an observation about humanity which may or may not be directly attributable to Albert Einstein. It is a reminder that the goal of becoming thoroughly wise, mature, honest and noble in character is essentially unattainable.
“There is a limit to man’s intelligence. The same cannot be said of stupidity.”
As is true of all living members of the human race, I still have not achieved the limits of my personal stupidity. However, stupidity, I can confidently report, is not the main thoroughfare of my life but only an occasional footpath.
I have another observation about these four words. Each word ends in the letters a-m-e. When I look at these three letters as two words I see A ME; one individual among billions of individuals. Me is at the core of fulfilling a destiny of shame or fame and same or became. It seems in life I have struggled most with me more than anything else.
I suppose I must correct myself, grammatically speaking, at this point. While my wisdom, maturity and character have improved with time, I cannot say I have completely fulfilled my aspirations. I cannot say I became all I hoped to be but I can say I am becoming. I am reminded of another observation by a person I greatly admire. That person is the first century apostle Paul.
“…not that I have already obtained…or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12
A dear friend of mine has harbored a secret, a weakness of character, that has irreparably ruined his reputation and caused immeasurable pain to his family and to those of us who loved and admired him. The full extent of the damage to his life, his family and beyond is unfolding. How and when any sense of relief, redemption and restoration will be achieved is just now, impossible to foresee. The wound is so deep it is very likely to leave an ugly generational scar.
I struggle with how to process this terrible revelation. I am not so far in my life’s journey to adequately comprehend and manage my grief and bewilderment. I am not alone in this quandary of emotion nor can I fully imagine the pain of those closest to my friend.
I bear this in mind. The secret he kept does not define the man I know and love. While I am disappointed, I am not disillusioned. When I reflect on his positive achievements and dedicated service, I do so with appreciation. Those godly and good actions that I have long admired in him, I still admire. He is, after all events and circumstances, still my friend. If friendship was conditional on impeccable unblemished conduct, I would not have a friend in this world. Few people would.
For the present I choose to uphold my friend and his family in prayer as they suffer through the consequences of his gross misconduct. I pledge to season my thoughts and comments about him with a balance of sympathy and kindness though never any suggestion of excuse or tolerance for his actions. I will, as God gives me opportunity, extent to his family loving support and assistance. And should the time come, I will offer him the hand of unconditional friendship along with encouragement to become a man who, with God’s help, restores honor to himself and his family.
Terry Pettee is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where his undergraduate study prepared him for a career in secondary education. Prior to attending EMU, he was Editor-In-Chief of the Erie Square Gazette while a student at the St. Clair County Community College. Between his community college and university years he was Marysville Editor of the St. Clair County Independent Press where he was a newspaper reporter and columnist. After a brief teaching stint his life’s journey led him into human resource and industrial relations management; a career spanning four decades. Now retired, Terry writes both Christian value based fiction and non-fiction for his own amusement, which is babble-speak for saying he has only a single published book to his credit.
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