My grandfather passed away not long ago. His passing, which was not unexpected, has struck a chord that resonates in every area of my life. We weren’t close, so although I do grieve his passing, it causes me more reflection than pain.
Now that he’s gone, I’m hearing a lot of stories of his generosity and gung-ho attitude in business and friendships.
He was a war veteran, an entrepreneur, an “old sodbuster,” as he always put it. But I’ve spent more time with a different side of him.
Several years ago, Grandpa started sending me his memoirs as he wrote them.
He had many interesting stories, but as I read over them again for his memorial, I detected little black splotches of bitterness on the colorful painting of his life.
Sometimes their origins are discernible - a mother who married and mothered too young and lived to resent it, a childhood in constant need that gave way to an adult determination to succeed and never be without again, no matter the cost.
Sometimes I don’t know where those black splotches come from.
We sometimes have a vague idea of what we want people to say in our obituary. That we were loving or a good friend or really generous or a great listener.
But it’s a rare moment when we evaluate the life-changing moments we’ve experienced and make a choice about how our lives will go from here.
I find my mind popping up with questions at unexpected moments: did Grandpa want his life to look like that? Did he do this or that on purpose, or was it just the path of least resistance? What were his main priorities in life? Did he choose them purposefully, or did the circumstances of his life dictate them?
This leads to more questions: how will I handle the curveballs life throws?
Grandpa couldn’t control the circumstances of his childhood; he grew up in the midst of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
The rest of his life, from my perspective, seems to be largely a reaction to the poverty he experienced then, both in his focus on financial success and also in his generosity to the people around him.
In my own life, I can identify the big events and see how they have added to my life’s painting.
My parents’ divorce, for example, was a huge blow to my security as a child.
For years that insecurity plagued me in the form of misplaced pride (an inability to admit I was wrong for fear that my dignity would be lost) and a way of choosing friends who I felt were beneath me somehow, so I always had something to teach or offer them.
Small black splotches in the grand scheme, perhaps, but black splotches all the same.
I’ve had twenty years to figure out how to live past that event, and it took ten of them for me to choose not to let it dictate the path my life would take.
At some point, I saw the value of confidence - not only for myself, but for the positive impact I believe it has on everyone I meet.
I can’t make people’s lives better if I’m so internally focused that I choose friends for their perceived failures or take small slights as personal affronts to my dignity.
The difficult events of my life have changed me, no question. But out of them I have a choice - let them define me, or recognize them as learning experiences that give me better tools to love the people around me.
They may be black splotches I didn’t want on my painting, but I have a life to live, and Grandpa’s life and memoirs are a reminder that I have the power to blend out those stark splotches instead of let them be repeated throughout the pattern of my life.
how will I handle the curveballs life throws?