Just when I had about concluded that true chivalry was dead, I saw the living embodiment of that very quality. It wasn’t exhibited by some old codger like myself who was reared to believe that chivalrous conduct was the normal attribute of a Southern gentleman; it was lived out by one of the younger generation whom we older folk so often castigate for their lacking that quality (among others).
All that seems to have changed. Now that the legal code and common practice have mandated that females are the equals of males, it seems that we are to treat them just as we would any casual male acquaintance. Toughly. Crudely. No special privileges or rights. No courtesy. And certainly nothing akin to chivalry. The common attitude seems to be Let them make their own way, hold their own door, find their own seat wherever they can. I’m not giving up anything for them. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and people will perceive any semblance of courtesy or chivalry as a sign of weakness.
At some point, our society has ceased to treat females as ladies (whether young or elderly) and has begun treating them merely as women. Granted, not all females are ladies. But there was a day when even the unladylike females were treated like ladies. That was when chivalry was alive and well.
But something changed; it’s different now. Having seen such ill-mannered conduct flying in the face of everything my mother taught me as a kid, I had pretty much concluded that chivalry was, indeed, dead. Until I observed the conduct of a neighbor boy over the past several months.
I didn’t know his name at first. He and his family lived up the street from me. Every morning of the school year, I saw him and his sister make their way to the bus stop not far from my house. Every afternoon, just as my wife arrived home, they walked back up the hill after getting off the bus. It was like clock work.
I often sit outside on my front porch in the afternoon, proofing copy or editing, doing research reading, or writing rough drafts in longhand. And I regularly saw those two kids climbing the hill from the bus stop. One day, the little girl waved to me and smiled. I waved back. And a tradition was born. The kids and I have been waving to each other every day I’m outside when the bus comes.
Another morning, several minutes after the bus had departed, I heard the doorbell ring. Answering it, I found the two kids looking at me pleadingly. They said that the bus had come early for some reason and they had missed it. Their parents were at work; they had no way to get to school. And they just couldn’t miss school. Could I take them?
With all the news today about abuse accusations and such, I was a bit fearful. But since big brother was with little sister, I agreed. We had a pleasant conversation on the way, during which I got to know them a little. They revealed their belief that they had a responsibility to be in school and that a good education was the key to their future success. They hated to miss or be late for school. And they thanked me profusely. Later in the week, their mother expressed the same gratitude. I told her that I had observed her children and expressed my admiration for their attitudes.
Then one day I noticed that although the brother had walked his sister to the school bus stop, he then returned home. That happened day after day. I assumed that he was sick. But it continued for several weeks. Then it dawned on me that he might have graduated early. So one afternoon, I stopped him as he came to the bus stop and asked him about why he didn’t go to school. He replied that he had, indeed, graduated early. I complimented his chivalry, his devotion to his sister, exhibited in his walking her to and from the bus stop to ensure than nothing happened to her. He was a bit embarrassed by the compliment, as most self-effacing big brothers might be.
During our conversation, however, I learned more about his character. I learned that he also is forward thinking. He has goals, a dream for his life. And he knows that to achieve it will require hard work, so he’s beginning early.
His dream is to join the military and become a military policeman. But to do that, he knows that he will have to do well on several entrance and job placement exams. So he’s spending this semester studying for them. Most boys would be sleeping or playing video games or texting on their cell phones. Or doing worse. Not this boy. He has character. He’s a knight.
“I want to do well, to score high,” he explained with conviction. And I believe he does and will.
Would that we had more such exemplars among our young men today!
Long live chivalry!