My grandfather died when I was sixteen years old. I contend he knew he was down to his last year, though I am the only one in the family that believes this. My grandparents lived near Sarasota and we lived several hundred miles away towards the opposite end of Florida, near St. Augustine. That last year we made several trips to visit them, and they made one trip at the beginning of the year to visit us.
Each visit my grandfather would always make some time for us to sit under his favorite tree in the front yard, just the two of us. It was during those times under the tree that my grandfather tried to give a life time worth of advice in just a few short moments to a sixteen year old boy.
We would chat about school, music, economics and what-not. Then he would turn to face me and say, “Some of this won’t make sense to you now, but you will understand later.” Thirty-six years later I am still remembering those gems of wisdom, and reaping the benefits when I follow his sage advice or enduring the pain when I do not.
One bit of advice I have followed faithfully, until this year is, “Do not, ever, go into business with family or friends, it is a good way to lose both.” I did.
Another piece of advice that I find painful to follow right now is, “When people show you who they are – don’t argue with them.” That one is hard. I grew attached to people, they became an extended family. I would have done anything for them (and did). Then they turned, describing some wretched creature I did not recognize, only to learn they were describing me. How could people I thought knew me so well, say the things that they said, or worse yet believe what they said?
I always thought I was someone who was easy to understand, but difficult to get really close too. Maybe I am more complicated than I thought – I don’t know. My little brother Jason calls me the “family perfectionist.” A title I disavow. I am not a perfectionist; I just do everything for myself. If I can’t do it I don’t need it. I will help others whenever I can, but I prefer to handle my own things myself.
My “little sister” got me to change that. She actually got me to step back and let others help. One of the things she said was that there are other people who want to help me, and by not allowing them too I am robbing them of that joy. I actually listened to her and started to “loosen up” a bit. But now what? A part of me wants to return to my shell. Another part of me wants to find a way to “fix” this rift. But one voice inside says they never really knew me, and I should just let go; take what I’ve learned and never look back.
I have never been able to do that completely. I always carry ghosts around on my shoulder; the submariners whose deaths would give me the gift of life 20 years later, my grandfather, my daughter Alexandra, and a love who died in a car accident when we were both still so very young.
My grandfather also used to say, “Always do what’s right. Not because it is easy, it never is. You do what’s right because it is right.” Another thing he said is, “A good man is not someone who does the right thing when people can see it. A good man is a man who does the right thing when no one can see it.”
I own my triumphs and defeats, my accomplishments and failures, my rights and wrongs. But when someone contributes the wrongs of someone else to me, and then shuts me out, there is very little I can do – except hurt. I did hurt my “little sister,” but these other people are “jumping on the band wagon” with any excuse they can come up with.
Yes, a part of me wants to return to my shell. But, another part of me is determined to take the other road and continue forward. In the midst of my confusion, trying to understand what was happening and why; another part of my life was already surging forward in unexpected ways. Amidst unimagined opportunity I still feel lost, trying to understand the madness that descended upon me that first weekend of November.
I will move forward and take advantage of the opportunities I have gained this month. But, a part of me will always remember what I lost this month, and the people that really never did know me. If I get a chance I will make amends with my “little sister,” the others – well I would just as soon forget them. Like I said, those other people never really knew me.