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In “Slouching Toward Gomorrah,” former Supreme Court Justice
candidate Robert Bork points out a shocking trend in this country: More
of us seem to be averse to “doing the right thing” in regards to our own
personal behavior and behavior towards others. Instead, he suggests, our
own selfish interests tend to override our ability to emulate honor,
integrity, and honesty. In addition, more of us seem unable to
recognize true righteousness when we see it, and fewer want to choose
the path of righteousness when we stumble upon it.

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, there was a time when true
selfishness was shunned, a lack of honor and integrity was a serious
character flaw, and people weren’t rewarded for “bad boy” behavior and
setting bad examples.

For a glimpse of the “way things used to be,” I thought it
appropriate to relate a story I received yesterday. I make no claims to
its validity, but it’s a good story nonetheless and it reminded me of a
much simpler, more selfless time when Americans were more interested in
“doing the right thing” not always because they wanted to, but because
they were expected to — and they lived up to that expectation:

“John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army
uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand
Central Station. He was looking for the girl whose heart he knew, but
whose face he didn’t — the girl with the red rose.

“His interest in her had begun 13 months before, in a Florida
library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued — not
with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margins.
The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind.

“In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner’s name,
Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address; she
lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and
inviting her to correspond.

“The next day, however, he was shipped overseas for service in World
War II. During the next year and one month, the two grew to know each
other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile
heart. A romance was budding.

“Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if
he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like.

“When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they
scheduled their first meeting — 7 p.m. at Grand Central Station in New
York. ‘You’ll recognize me,’ she wrote, ‘by the red rose I’ll be wearing
on my lapel.’ So at 7 p.m. he was in the station looking for a girl
whose heart he loved, but whose face he’d never seen.

“In Mr. Blanchard’s words, it went this way:

“‘A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her
blond hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue
as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale
green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her,
entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I
moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way,
sailor?” she murmured. Almost uncontrollably, I made one step closer to
her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell.

“‘She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past
40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than
plump; her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes.

“‘The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as
though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet
so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned
me and upheld my own. And there she stood.

“‘Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a
warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the
small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.
This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something
perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and
must ever be grateful.

“‘I squared my shoulders and saluted, then held out the book to the
woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my
disappointment. ‘I’m Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss
Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me — may I take you to dinner?’
The woman’s face broadened into a tolerant smile.

“‘I don’t know what this is about, son,’ she answered, ‘but the young
lady in the green suit, who just went by, begged me to wear this rose on
my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell
you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street.
She said it was some kind of test.’

“It’s not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell’s wisdom.
The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive.
‘Tell me whom you love,’ Houssaye wrote, ‘and I will tell you who you
are.’”

Indeed.

I’ve no doubt there are still many Americans who exemplify Lt.
Blanchard’s actions. But in the age of Clinton, irresponsible and
cost-free relationships, and selfishness beyond compare, it is a
wonderful blessing to be reminded of the times that used to be — and
could be again — when folks just plain did “the right thing.”

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