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Conquer yourself first — then the unkindness of others won’t conquer you

Conquer Yourself First


By —— Bio and Archives--December 7, 2017

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Conquer Yourself First
Many lessons my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird taught me seemed foolish at the time, but along with me they matured, and now serve as guideposts in my life. One of those lessons was about kindness.

Jaybird believed that no act of kindness, however small, is wasted. Even so, the old black man sometimes displayed a less-than-kindly nature when the actions of others angered him, but if I was close by he did his best to respond in a civil manner.

On one occasion, when he reacted to a neighbor’s offending remark with a mere shrug of the shoulders and a smile, I commented that I would have reacted in a manner similar to the offender’s.

“Then you would have lost to the man who, when you let him, is your worst enemy: yourself. Conquer yourself first — then the unkindness of others won’t conquer you.”

That comment confused me, but it began to clear up one Sunday as he and I walked home from the little country church not far from Dad’s Mississippi Delta farm.

“Boy, why didn’t you sing in church today?” he asked. “You’ve always loved to sing Christmas carols.”

“Because of what our school bus driver Mr. Bailey said.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“One day, when I got on the bus, he asked, ‘You love to sing, don’t you, boy?’” 

“Yes, sir,” I answered, expecting praise.

“Well, there ain’t but one problem,” he said. “You don’t sing — you croak.”

Stinging insults that come when one is anticipating compliments hurt doubly. Jaybird knew that, but said nothing.

The next Sunday, when we were walking to church he said, “Don’t sing today, boy. Listen to Mr. Bailey instead. He told you what he thought of your singing. Now tell him what you think of his singing.”

I’d always been so engrossed in my own unmelodious utterances that I paid little attention to anyone else’s singing. When I did, I discovered that Mr. Bailey’s clear baritone voice was absolutely beautiful, and I could tell that he loved singing Christmas carols as much as I did. After the last prayer, Jaybird whispered, “Be truthful, boy.”

“Mr. Bailey, I’ve never heard a man sing as beautifully as you do.”

He froze. Glancing back as we walked away, I saw his eyes begin to moisten.

The next week, Mama let me join Jaybird for a special Christmas Eve service at the little church. After we sang my favorite carol, “Joy To The World,” Mr. Bailey patted my shoulder affectionately, and said, “Young man, to the Lord, the voices of all His children lifted in praise are beautiful, especially a voice as pretty as yours.”

As we walked home on that clear, starry night, I said, “Jaybird, I will never forget Mr. Bailey’s kind words.”

With his arm around my shoulder, he looked down proudly at a boy he loved as his own son, and said, “Just remember, to be kind to others, you often have to do this: Conquer yourself first.”



Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, and retired college teacher. His collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com, telephone 662-236-2262.

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