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An unmarked grave: The virtue of zeal

“Do now, do now what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die.” -St. Angela MericiOne of the dangers in writing about virtue is that in an effort to bring this all-important concept to life, other-worldly figures are used as models. This can leave one feeling more than a little inadequate, and doubtful about ever being truly “virtuous.”So, in honor of what would have been his 100th year of life, I present my grandfather Wesley Hugh Gates. He was not perfect, he was not a genius, he did not go to church daily and pray hourly, no school was named after him, and he never won the Nobel peace prize. If you saw him on the street you wouldn’t look twice, might not even look once. He was pretty typical, except for the way he cared.When he was six years-old, my grandfather was awakened one morning by hammering. He took his little brother by the hand and together they walked into the kitchen to find their father building a coffin. My gandfather’s fifteen year-old sister had died in the middle of the night. She had been sick with the measles, and then she was gone. The family buried her in an unmarked grave because they didn’t have the money for a grave marker. And they never spoke of her again.Of course my grandfather never forgot about his sister, and the way his family could not properly honor her life. But he knew he needed to do more than just remember. So when he was old enough, he returned to that old country graveyard in eastern Oklahoma, sifted through the burial records, and found her grave. He then paid for a proper marker for her. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.Zeal comes from the Latin word for “eager.” It’s not about crazy religiosity, or intolerance. It’s about an eagerness to do the right thing, not because you should but because you can! Zeal is an awareness of, a caring for, and a commitment to fulfilling the duties and obligations one owes others.Duties and obligations due others? Really? I don’t think there’s a sickness that better describes our culture than sloth, that spiritual laziness that numbs us, feeds self-obsession and selfishness and effectively isolates us from others…and from our authentic selves. Zeal does to sloth what a lit blow-torch does to tissue paper.“Do now, do now what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die.”My grandfather cared in exceptional ways about doing the right thing by others, and for others. He raised my mother to live with zeal, and she raised me in that same spirit. And my life is infinitely richer as a result. I am grateful for my mother, and for my grandfather, and for that dusty cemetary where a young girl was quietly laid to rest in an unmarked grave.  -Ross Porter, Ph.D.Questions for reflection: What do you owe others? Who models the virtue of zeal for you? How? What is one thing you can begin doing to practice the virtue of zeal?

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