It didn’t happen overnight, but I began to hear those words press air I thought never would. Phrases like, “Well, when I was your age” or “It used to be” or “I used to” slipped from my lips as though my subliminal muscles lost all strength to sustain a youthful pretense. I promised my younger self, as a rule, I would never be that old person, but the words, more prevalent in my stories than the gray on my head, spilled out with an ease reserved for breathing.

Feeling guilty at first and silently apologetic to my listeners, my considered standard for congenial conversation had lessened and I became the stereotype I once adamantly pledged to avoid, an old man telling “I used to” stories. I never worried the fear into reality. The words just overtook me like a night ninja. They appeared before I knew it. And when I knew it, I gave in to it. One time became every time.

Science calls this lessening of a standard social normalization of deviance. Simplified, it means relaxing a rule becomes so normal the rule is no longer noticed. So yes, the exception becomes the rule. In benign contexts, rule-breaking can have little consequence. Not so benign endeavors can be more grave.

History examples such a lessening when we remember the Challenger space shuttle seven who “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” Deviation has consequences.

Rule-breaking walks an edge. Following a rule or not either stumbles toward mediocrity or heeds wisdom’s call. How is one to know?

My friend, eulogizing his father, said this about him, “Dad did the right thing not because there was a rule but because there was a right.” And isn’t this our guide? Doesn’t perception tap into wisdom when we choose right over a rule? And when we do, right becomes the rule.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23,24, NKJV).

A wise man once told me, “Never make a rule today you will break tomorrow.” Jesus said right is the rule, the message precedes the letter, heart matters more than words, shuttered minds darken hearts and an empty hallway echoes no voice. Follow the law, Jesus said, but do not leave weightier matters undone. It’s as if Jesus said, remember right wrote the rule and broke it, too. Right never suffers silence long.

I’ve learned by trial a bad decision yesterday does not prevent a good one today and life loses its simplicity from those innocent bicycle summer days, but somehow right is always there available to me, simple and good, rule or no rule.

“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV).

Deck Cheatham has been a golf professional for more than 40 years. He lives with his family in Dalton. Contact him at pgadeacon@gmail.com.

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