Sitting with my Mammaw one morning at her kitchen table in Grafton, WV, our conversation strayed to her disappointment with a recent life decision I had made. She was a very direct woman, so she didn’t pull any punches. “I’m disappointed in you, Jeff. You’ve hurt your family. I just never thought I’d see you make a decision like that. I’m just very, very disappointed in you.”
Her words cut straight to my heart.
Her opinion mattered to me. She was more than my Father’s Mother, she was a woman of character who had lived a life of integrity and honor. She was someone I respected and admired.
It took me a moment to compose a reply and she just waited silently, allowing me to rest in the discomfort. In retrospect, my response was designed to deflect attention. She would have nothing of it.
“You make it all look so easy,” I said to her, staring down at my plate, avoiding eye contact. “You always seem to do the right thing. I don’t know how you do it. How do you always seem to know what the right thing is?”
I raised my head as my question trailed off to find her slicing a tomato as we chatted. She didn’t look up from her cutting. And she didn’t hesitate in her response. She replied, “You’re fooling yourself, Jeff. You always know what the right thing to do is, you just choose not to do it. And I believe this is true for everyone. You can’t correct the past. Just do the next right thing.”
Just do the next right thing.
In the decades since that casual conversation, those words have echoed in my head more often than I could possibly count. I’d be lying if I said I have always done the next right thing. I haven’t. What I have done, however, is realize she was correct. In every situation, the “right” thing has been clear.
Most decisions in life don’t involve a moral element. We make them reflexively. But in every situation where right and wrong were more than just choices of direction, the “right” thing, the ethical thing, has been clear. There have been times that I’ve ignored that and did the wrong thing. More often than not, however, her advice has kept me focused on what really matters. Some days that is more important than I recognize.
Not today. Her voice was crystal clear in my head this morning. I thought you might like to hear it too.