What’s in Your Permanent Record?

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time


When Samuel L. Jackson asks that question “What’s in your wallet?”, does he get a reaction from you? It’s a catchy marketing slogan from the credit services of some big-name bank intended to make you stop and think—well, maybe not you specifically, but definitely a specific demographic of the general population they intend to reach. And if their target audience does stop and think, perhaps they would consider their financial security, purchasing power, and prosperity. And if they manage to accomplish that, and you have the slightest reason for concern about your financial standing, you just might give them a call. Now even if you don’t do anything the very moment you watch the commercial or hear the slogan, something is planted in your brain that will stay for a while. And there it will live alongside other iconic slogans like “Where’s the beef?” and “When you care enough to send the very best” and “Just do it” and “Like a good neighbor stay over there.” That’s the updated pandemic version. Whether a catchy marketing slogan affects your behavior now or in the future is not really that important. For as long as it remains in your brain, all it takes is an innocent trigger to bring it back. And if the memory results in behavior that puts money in their coffers, everyone wins. But mostly them. And they want you to think it was all entirely your idea.

Do you remember in school being unceremoniously informed, usually as you are being reprimanded for something even just slightly beneath your academic potential, or the illustrious name of the learning institution, or your own or your family’s reputation, that this failing mark, this egregious lapse of judgement, this unprecedented out-of-character behavior will live forever in your permanent record? Your permanent record. What exactly is your permanent record? And how do you access it, primarily to verify if that little incident in kindergarten or 9th Grade even made it in? And why would the threat of something making your permanent record cause stomach upset or nightmares or hair loss or a lousy credit score?

Since I did eventually teach in a classroom, I have had opportunity to seriously revisit the idea of the permanent record. Spoiler alert. It doesn’t exist in the way we all thought it existed. It’s not written on paper somewhere and filed away in a manila folder and catalogued in the Library of Congress for easy reference. And did you ever imagine how thick your file would be? Instead, our permanent record is something less tangible or easily manipulated. True, it includes any enduring physical evidence in material things we leave behind. But it also includes all whose lives we’ve changed for better or worse, and what people remember and say about us good or bad, and the road we’ve traveled, and the legacy we leave behind. It certainly puts anything we’ve ever done in grade school in proper perspective. You might think the awesome and amazing things that you’ve already accomplished as a young person will define your place in history. Buckle up. There’s so much more awesome and amazing ahead of you.

In the end, each of us have the proven evidence of our lives to show ourselves and the world who we are in truth. The permanent record is our personal history, good and not-so-good, in rich detail and living color and surround sound. And whether or not you or I or grandma remembers it, whether or not it made the news or the history books, it is known to God who knows the whole truth of it, and it is to God alone to whom we must give an account of it. The book of Sirach points out that “in tribulation is the test of the just” and that “one’s speech discloses the bent of one’s mind.” No matter who we claim to be, the complete truth will out in our words and actions. Much responsibility lies then with those whose words and actions are meant to lead others in the right path. The image of a blind person guiding another blind person is both comical and tragic. We should be concerned if we were either one or the other.

In recent weeks we have heard reports of a massive military buildup along the eastern border of Ukraine while western leaders warned of possible armed conflict and Russian forces repeatedly denied accusations of planning a violent land grab. There is no denying the injustice and chaos that Russia has unleashed on Ukraine since Monday even as the Russian president attempts to justify his actions. He will remember it however he wants. The rest of the world will remember it differently. But there is no fooling God. And our actions speak louder than our words. “Every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Everything we say and how we behave unfolds in real time for us and all the world to witness. We can make outrageous claims about our public standing, our academic achievements, and our awards and accolades. We can tout our financial security, our buying power, and our prosperity. But in spite of all the posturing and spin, the smoke and mirrors, the truth will never be far from what the world and God hear us speak and see us do. What’s in your permanent record?

Rolo B Castillo © 2022

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