The above photographs are among my favorite keepsakes. I don’t remember much about the day itself, but I can assert confidently that the dynamic captured in these images is representative of the dynamic between me and my grandfather on any given day. More specifically, I look for my next mission. And even when he has to run—literally or figuratively—Grandpa remains behind me.
Not captured in the above photographs is the intermediate event in which, without knowing how to use the breaks, I used a tree to stop my bike. As Grandpa would often say, “Life isn’t a bowl of cherries.” So despite the fall, I got up, got back on that bike, and came home grinning, excited about, and proud of, my latest triumph. Meanwhile, Grandpa, seemingly exhausted, endured the whole process for the sake of supporting me. To this day, I do what I have to do, no matter how painful it is. And to this day, Grandpa gives all of himself to others, no matter the sacrifice. As a matter of fact, not biologically related, he chose to be my grandfather. And because of the many blessings that have blossomed from that choice, I try to live a life that shares the best of him with the world.
I don’t know that I can embody all of his goodness, or recite all of his lessons, but I have a montage of memories that guide me. For example, when he made me spend part of every weekend correcting what I had gotten incorrect on the previous week’s assignments—even though the teacher would never know of my efforts and it would not directly impact my grade—he taught me about intrinsic rewards and not settling for less than my full potential. When he drove all the way back to the grocery store to return a penny that the cashier had accidentally overpaid him, he taught me about honesty. When he refused to let me say, “I can’t,” he taught me about confidence and perseverance. When he called family meetings, he taught me about using my voice to create change. Every time he helped somebody—which was all the time—he taught me about gratefulness and humility, and that doing well without doing good is meaningless. When he refused to tell me and my brother about special outings he had planned because if for some reason he couldn’t bring them to fruition, he didn’t want to disappoint us, he taught me that it’s acceptable to hold people to their word, and that people should be able to hold me to mine, no matter how significant or inconsequential a statement I make. When we had family game nights, even though most of my friends’ families could afford family vacations, he taught me that love really isn’t about money. When he put gas in my car every week through most of my college years, he taught me that no matter how little you have, you should share it. And when he taught me how to ride a bike—while forgetting to instruct me on how to use the breaks—he taught me that you don’t have to have it all figured out to begin the journey, and that crashing is an opportunity to show the world what you’re made of and to make a choice about what comes next.
These are the lessons that make my days count, ones that I hope to instill in my students and in my future children, ones in which I hope my readers can find inspiration and solace—even when the road ahead is daunting, when we don’t have answers (or the answers we desire), when we have to endure pain in order to achieve progress, and when new people have chosen to be behind us.