Summer reminds me of my grandfather because it was his favorite time to go fishing. He liked to wake up early so we could be on the lake by sunrise and home before the relentless Texas heat bore down on us. Our fishing trips included lots of conversation, which is probably better described as me talking and my grandfather listening. More importantly, they gave him a chance to impart his wisdom to me.
My grandfather was always interested to hear what I had to say, no matter what it was. I remember feeling like he truly listened to me because he could remember details about the conversations long after they were over. And I can see now he was also giving me tools to strengthen my emotional intelligence.
I don’t know that I understood some of it as a kid, but as I got older, the richness and depth of his wisdom became more apparent to me.
The first nugget of wisdom I remember came when I was in junior high school. I was telling a story about something that had happened that I felt was terribly unfair. His words were simple, but they spoke volumes about his understanding of me and the world around him. “Even a thin coin has two sides,” he told me.
Later I asked him what he meant by it. He told me that every situation can be viewed through at least two perspectives – mine and the perspective of the other person or people. It hadn’t dawned on my young mind that there could be another side to the story. He was a genius!
A few years later, I had made it through my junior year of high school and was applying to colleges. I was anxiously waiting to hear where I would spend the next four years. While I was fretting over the wait, I talked with him about some of the other things I was planning once I was enrolled in college. I was worried about making friends, fitting in – the usual pre-college jitters. “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow,” he suggested.
He knew I tended to get ahead of myself and was able to use a simple idea to get me to stop the worry. He didn’t have to explain this one to me. Its simplicity and clarity spoke volumes to me. I share his words with clients when I see the wheels of worry start to spin out of control during a coaching session. I suspect he’d like that I use his words regularly.
My favorite piece of his wisdom, however, caught me completely by surprise. A few years after college, I was at my grandparents’ house visiting with them. As I stood up to leave, my grandmother asked me when I was going to bring home a nice girl and get married. I made an excuse as I said good-bye. My grandfather walked with me to the car, put his hand on my shoulder, and stared directly into my eyes. “Don’t you worry about your grandmother,” he said. “You just love who you love.”
I hugged him and got in my car to go home. I had to pull over because I was crying – not because I was sad, but because I was relieved. Even though I was still coming to grips with being gay, my grandfather already knew and had made peace with it. And he had let me know I should make peace with it as well.
He died a few short years after that. Despite the passage of time, I still hear his voice in my mind when I repeat his words of wisdom, clarity, acceptance, and love.