This past session of the General Assembly so infuriated me that I couldn’t think straight. When I get like that, I like to write to my Aunt Lee, back home in south Georgia. I get a couple of things out of it. First, just writing the letter settles my thoughts. Second, I’m sure to receive a response. It won’t come quickly, because Aunt Lee likes to think about things, and she won’t be hurried. She believes that the point is not just to do something, but to do the right something. That takes some time.

A little background on Aunt Lee may be helpful. Her full name is Leland Obadiah Lovejoy. Her parents figured that their chances of having a boy would improve if they went ahead and came up with a boy’s name, especially one that included a Biblical reference. When their plan failed, they apparently didn’t have it in them to come up with another name, so they took what they had and made the best of it. “Leland” became “Lee” for short. To do otherwise was just too hard.

Their desire to include a family name was also a limitation. To explain, I simply note that Aunt Lee is not only my mother’s sister but also my cousin. Not quite sure how that is; I had another aunt that understood all the relationships, like those once or twice removed. I never did understand all of it, but I always knew that I was connected with Aunt Lee more than once. When I got older I discovered that this meant that some of my ancestors married relatives. I asked Aunt Lee about it one time, and she explained that back in the day courting was just a lot easier if all you had to do was walk down the road to the next house. And, more likely than not, whoever lived in that house was related somehow; you just never were quite sure how. It was also comfortable. You ended up marrying somebody you’d known all your life and you didn’t have to get to know a whole different family. In the end, it just wasn’t a big deal, she said. You either liked somebody or you didn’t, kin or no. That’s probably why Aunt Lee never married. She never liked anybody very much, especially family, until later, when she developed an affinity for older men on motorcycles.

She liked me for some reason, though. She took to me early on. I don’t know if it’s because I was so openly fascinated with her flaming red hair, or I didn’t trash her house whenever we went to visit, or said “please” and “thank you” from the time I learned to talk, or watched Monty Python with her, or what. Most likely, I think, it’s because I always asked her advice on things. She always seemed smart to me, and not just school smart. She was educated enough. She got her college degree and had a good teaching job until she retired. But it wasn’t her education. She was smarter than all that. She understood things. She watched. She thought. She never relied on what other people told her. She would take what other people said and work it through herself. By the time she was done, she had her mind made up and only more information, with more careful thought, could change it. This process meant that she could change her mind, but not quickly.

I kept asking her for her opinions after I left home. I now have to wait even longer for her answers. I send her a letter. She gets it a few days later. She reads it over at least three times. Then she thinks awhile and starts to write. She takes her time sketching her thoughts and then lets it sit a day or two. Finally, she goes back and carefully writes at least two drafts and then the final with her classic fountain pen. Each letter is an heirloom.

The most recent one I wrote her was about my disgust over this year’s session of the General Assembly, and not just about the bills passed or not passed, but the process, using the term loosely. The letter I wrote her would have been incomprehensible to anyone else, but somehow Aunt Lee understands me when no one else can. This was no exception. I may one day share the letter I wrote to her; but, like I said, no one else would understand it. Her letter back makes a lot more sense and provides a good sense of what was in mine, with the benefit of her translation.

One more note. She always called me “Johnny.” I eventually trained even my mother to call me “John,” but not Aunt Lee. She decided early on that I was “Johnny”, and nothing ever changed her mind. I just have to live with it.

“Dear Johnny,

Please forgive my taking so long to respond to your letter. I had to cogitate on it even more than usual. You know that I never thought much of politics. I have not cared for it since the days of Eugene Talmadge, when a lot of folks down here thought he was the Lord and when they died they were going to Atlanta. I know it is important and that I should be grateful for people involved in it. From your letter I sense you are disillusioned with your own involvement. You obviously care about it and have a certain understanding of it. I would take that as an indication that you should continue with it. Your role may evolve over time, as well it should. Always be aware of the flow of events and of your place within them. Do not waste your time with issues of little import or people of weak character. Do not confuse character with influence. I imagine that the legislature is like any other organization. Many of apparent influence are of unreliable or uncharitable character but have achieved positions of influence due to a grasp of organizational workings. Avoid putting too much trust in them. You will likely have to work with them, but do so wisely. Seek out instead those who lead by integrity and wisdom. They may seem less accomplished, but what they do accomplish will likely be more meaningful. I would think that, in the long term, those are the people with whom you want to associate.

Believe me, I know that wisdom and age do not always go hand in hand, but I do believe that there is a certain understanding of life that comes with advancing years. If I read your letter correctly, the legislation that most concerned you passed all committees unanimously and received overwhelming affirmative votes in both the House and the Senate. In the waning hours of the session, two young legislators, including the primary sponsor of your bill, attached two controversial measures to it and refused or failed to remove them despite certain defeat. Youth can easily involve itself in mere gamesmanship, confusing it with strategy. Consider that these legislators lost themselves in the adrenalin of the effort and thereby lost even that which was assured. The problem with gamesmanship is that the game itself is the goal. It aims toward nothing but winning, and not winning anything outside itself; just winning for its own sake.

As your aunt, I may also remind you that you have occasionally allowed the challenge of competition and achievement to supersede any sense of, or need for, purpose. You have climbed ladders without regard to the walls against which they leaned. You cared only for the climb. Gratefully, I sense in your letters a greater thoughtfulness of purpose and action, an increasing humility. The current circumstance tests that humility. You continue to compete. You desired recognition for your contribution to passage of a bill that you largely initiated. The legislators defeated you; they won. Do not allow your disappointment in the outcome and disillusionment with the process to prevent you from learning more of yourself. Look within and guard yourself against the attacks of wounded pride. Keep your eye on the goal. You have indeed matured. You have not, however, arrived. Maintain the integrity of your continuing journey. To say that “this is the way it’s done,” or “the end justifies the means” oversimplifies. Each motivation and each action stands on its own ethical footing. Be certain of the rightness of your pursuit in both objective and implementation.

Such is the extent of my current thoughts. I fear both that you will reflexively reject and uncritically accept them. Do not accept anything that I or anyone else says without forcing it through your own gauntlet. Do not react to any external motivations; act only from those that become your own. Lastly, do not overreact. The circumstance that now causes you so much angst is not truly of overwhelming import, despite your current emotions to the contrary.

Time now for something completely different. After I drop this letter in the mailbox, I am scheduled to go on a motorcycle trip with Roger. Have I introduced you to Roger? I do not believe that I have. In any event, he invited me to go riding with him over the weekend. I know what you are thinking. Do not worry about us. At our age all we can be is friends, but I will insist on separate rooms to avoid “the appearance of impropriety.” I will, however, make sure my key opens the door between the two!

With constant love,

Aunt Lee”