July 30, 2020

Don Miguel, and Other Lessons


The year 2020 has already become unforgettable.

What a Year: Already!

Just when the nation was coming to grips with the tragic death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and friends in a helicopter crash, COVID-19 seized our collective attention. The unnecessary loss of thousands of lives and its accompanying quarantine have forced us to navigate life in unanticipated ways. Practically overnight, with neither warning nor training, accountants and engineers have become daycare providers and school teachers to their children, with varying degrees of success. All while working from home, if still fortunate enough to have a job. 

Love in Short Supply

Mere weeks into this new normal we were collectively forced to deal with horrendous killings—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks—and ponder why we are still living these tragedies in the twenty-firstcentury. Perhaps the common thread that has made our two national pandemics so much more deadly is our chronic shortage, not of PPEs or kindly cops, but of mutual love. True love to our neighbors expresses itself in simple actions such as wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from others when outside our homes. It’s treating each other with the same level of respect, kindness, understanding, and consideration we believe we are personally entitled to. These simple actions have no price tag. But they literally help decide who lives, and who dies. 

As Christians, called to be agents of positive, permanent change, we model and teach future generations God’s way of love and all the values of His kingdom. Passing on good values to the next generation is so important that God took time to highlight this concept as He established the nation He would call His children: Israel was to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength, and make sure the next generation got His love principles: “Impress them on your children . . . when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7, 8).* Jesus confirmed both the Mosaic values and the love that rules them. All the commandments come down to just two: love to God and love to fellow humans (Matt. 22:37-40).

Lesson #1, and Others

My parents were great at teaching their children the love and values that represent God. They felt that these are infinitely more crucial to life’s ultimate success than academic and professional accomplishments. Here are five lessons they passed on to us: 

1. Respect everyone.

2. Mr., Ms., and Mrs. are part of everybody’s name.

Don Miguel, our gardener, was thirsty one day and asked me for a drink of water. I happily ran inside, grabbed an old cup, filled it with water from the refrigerator, and ran toward the garden as the water kept spilling from the cup. My mother asked where I was going with the water. I answered: “Miguel is thirsty and asked for a drink of water.” My mother, a great teacher, seized the teachable moment and responded, “That would be Mr. Miguel to you.” My parents understood that to address someone by the simple title of Mr., Ms., or Mrs. helps to make the whole conversation respectful; it can also lift the spirits of someone who is experiencing rough times. We are more than our racial group, ethnicity, citizenship, financial situation, or immigration status. Educated or not, well-to-do or not, we are all children of God and deserving of respect. I was to treat Don Miguel to one of the fine glasses we used for visitors, a small tray, and a napkin. Mom said, “Wait until he is done and ask if he would like to have another drink of water.” I was briefly an annoyed 7-year-old because I had meant no disrespect to Don Miguel. But I did as I was told and learned a basic lesson: respect everyone, regardless of their role or status in society.

3. Do good always, no matter the cost.

Dad used to bring home assorted individuals who my mom insisted were going to kill him one day if he wasn’t careful. Once he asked a desperate beggar to take him to his home. The condition of the family he saw moved him to tears. He took the gentleman to the pharmacy and the supermarket; then, with no warning, showed up at home with this gentleman dressed in rags. We were introduced to Mr. David. We fed him, sent a warm meal to his family, clothing and shoes for everyone, food from the pantry, and money. For the next many months, Mr. David showed up at our home needing help. Eventually, Dad got him a job, and we didn’t see him again. Many years later, one of his sons showed up. He, too, had fallen on rough times, but he told himself that if he could find our home, he would be OK. And he was: we were happy to help again. 

4. Never refer to anyone as “those people” or “these people.”

God is the Father of all humanity. Some may not know it, but we’re all one family.

5. Never speak evil of others. 

I’m not quite done learning that lesson. Some people bring out the worst in me. And sometimes my judgment fails. My parents never criticized anyone in front of their children. They still insist that we need to put ourselves in the place, lives, and circumstances others have lived through before we dare speak evil of them. I know a little of how it feels to be evil spoken of. I attended college in a country where people from my homeland, the Dominican Republic, were often thought inferior, were poorly treated, and were considered a threat to the country’s social and economic development. Fear, discrimination, and mistreatment of “the other” also exist outside of the United States of America. One day a young man in the college cafeteria expressed disdain for my friends and me, all from different foreign countries, assuming we were getting financial benefits we weren’t entitled to. He left us embarrassed, almost speechless. His lies about us were true about himself: it was he who was drawing money on false pretenses. I knew that because my job had involved the processing of his financial clearance papers. Why would he hide behind racial and historical resentments and judge us on issues unresolved in his mind? How dare he speak evil about things we couldn’t change about ourselves, such as our race and national origin? How dare he, how dare I, how dare any of us treat any of God’s children differently from how we would treat Jesus—or how He would treat us all, whatever our race, ethnicity, status, or other category?

I remain indebted to my parents for their lessons on love and respect. But as I said before, I’m still learning!

Mayra del Villar-Malcolm, M.A., is a wife, a mother, and an executive assistant at Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Silver Spring, Maryland. 

*Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.