Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three Grandfathers

Every now and then something happens in a person’s life that becomes a turning point.

When I was in the second grade, my family lived on the edge of a small town in Wisconsin. There was only one other kid my age in the area. His name was James and he was extremely intelligent, a true genius. His father was a surgeon and his mother was a southern aristocrat. They lived in a palace compared to my family’s digs.

I’d hang out with James on occasion, always at his house, even though I could sense his snooty parents considered me to be beneath their social status.

One day James and I were talking about our grandparents. His mother was also in the room. During the conversation I proudly mentioned that I had three grandfathers. James and his mother both broke out in laughter, obviously laughing at me. I was embarrassed and humiliated.

Later that evening, I had a talk with my mother about the incident whereupon I discovered the mathematics of breeding. Nevertheless, I still insisted that I had three grandfathers.

My father’s father had died long before I was born, when my father was in grade school. His mother remarried several years later to a fellow I came to know as Grampa Herman. My mother's father, Grampa Ben, died when I was 4 years old. I barely remembered him.

As far as I was concerned I had three grandfathers – two dead and one living.

In addition, Grampa Herman, a railroad engineer. was the most impressive human being I've ever known in this lifetime. He was strong and formidable and gentle and kind. He had been a boxing champion in the Army, fed squirrels by hand in his backyard, and built items in his workshop for those in need. Even though his blood didn't flow in my veins, he was my grandfather.

It may have been humorous to others that I thought I had three grandfathers, but I didn’t appreciate people laughing at me, pointing out my ignorance in such an insensitive fashion. I was staunchly determined not to allow such a thing to ever happen again, yet couldn’t quite figure out a way to prevent it. After all, I was only seven years old -- a young, dim bulb surrounded by large, bright people.

Perhaps I could just avoid these types of situations. But avoiding the human race would not be easy in a world of public schools and corporate workplaces. Clearly, I couldn’t hide forever.

Perhaps I could retaliate in some manner. However, I couldn’t retaliate verbally because these people were smarter than I was and would always top me. And some sort of physical retaliation was out of the question. It would be too childish, besides I had enough trouble coping with bullies without becoming one myself.

Perhaps rolling with the punches was the answer. But that seemed like a sort of surrender, a form of acceptance and suffering. I would be right back to square one.

Then came the turning point.

I began to wonder why I was so angry in the first place. Obviously, these people meant no harm; they were merely the products of their surroundings. Their insensitivity was a reflection on them, not on me. I wasn’t the jerk, they were. I suspected I had indulged in anger to mask my own insecurities about myself. After all, being a second grader in an imperfect world was no easy task.

Allowing myself to become angry simply because I was embarrassed made no sense. The key was not to be embarrassed in the first place. And in order to do so meant acknowledging that I was a worthy person regardless of what others thought of me. Just because these people felt they were superior to me didn’t necessarily mean they were.

In fact, in an odd way, their air of superiority made them inferior. Only those who had doubts about their own worth would behave in such a disgusting manner, propping themselves up by putting others down.

Thus, the solution became crystal clear. I would no longer allow the actions of others to affect me, thereby controlling me. I would simply observe without becoming emotional and spend the rest of my life rising above the pettiness of the masses.

With that, I was now ready to move on to higher planes of existence, like third grade.

Grandpa Herman passed on to the Great Beyond when I was 15 years old. His memory is always with me as I try to go through life in a strong, formidable, gentle, kind manner.

James went on to get advanced engineering degrees from M.I.T. and also became a world-class ski-jumper. These days, he lectures at Harvard and invents medical equipment, occasionally traveling to Paris where he demonstrates his inventions in fluent French.

And I went on to become a hermit in the hills of Arkansas, where I feed the squirrels, watch sunsets and occasionally share my thoughts with the rest of the world.

Finding contentment in life is not about yearning to be superior to others, it's about not allowing others to make you feel inferior.

Quote for the Day – "You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was." Irish folklore

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