The Crown of Old Men

A new phase in my life begins in less than two months from now. This prospect is all-at-once joyous, staggering, and humbling. You see, I am becoming a grandfather. There’s an ancient proverb that says, “Children’s children are the crown of old men.” While I don’t particularly feel that old, I can understand how becoming a grandfather can be the “crowning” experience of fatherhood. For the first time in my life I am suddenly aware of the gravity of how precious the gift of life is and the importance of building a legacy intended to guide my grandchildren through the labyrinth of their own personal journeys.

Being a grandfather means being there. It means sharing your stories and teaching lessons learned. Being a grandfather is being a mentor, a coach, a champion, and a friend all rolled up into one. It’s a big job, but I know how to do this because I learned from the best. The legacies of my father and grandfathers taught me so much. Their wisdom was so valuable to me, that I have decided to pay it forward to my children’s children in the hope that they will come to know the power of family and the value of appreciating everything that life has to offer.

To my grandchild, I offer these bits of wisdom:

  • Love is the greatest gift in life, and giving it is as important as receiving it.
  • Always look for the beauty in all things. You may find it where you least expect it.
  • Search for the good in people. It is a gift that will reap giant rewards.
  • Be thankful for what you have. And do not envy those who you think have more.
  • Never think you have learned all there is to learn. Learning is a lifelong process.
  • If a friend offers you drugs or wants you do something that you think is bad, they are not really your friend.
  • You are never alone in life. There are over 6 billion people on this earth. You can always find someone to talk to and befriend.
  • What you have for your possessions is always more valuable when you have worked for them.
  • Behold the majesty in every sunrise and the splendor in each sunset.
  • Don’t be afraid to change directions. You may find an exciting new path to follow.
  • Whoever tells you that you can never go home is dead wrong. When needed, may you always find your family’s front door open.
  • Learn to read a good book and expand your horizons. Books open your mind to possibilities.
  • Getting dirty working to get a job done is always worth it. You can shower later.
  • Don’t be afraid to get a black eye. Fighting for something that you believe in is good.
  • Never express hatred for anyone. It will eat at your self-respect.
  • Remember where you came from. It will make it easier moving forward.
  • Don’t refuse a good challenge. Accepting it could lead to a major accomplishment.
  • Accept the fact that sometimes you could be wrong. Admitting it will be right.
  • There is never any shame in asking for help. Never be too proud to offer it to someone else in return.
  • Your life journey will be filled with many detours. However, somewhere up ahead the road will always become straight again.
  • Do not judge anyone by what they look like on the outside. You may find a real friend on the inside.
  • Never be afraid to say I am sorry. It will make wounds easier to heal.
  • Respect the other person’s opinion and beliefs. You will receive the same in return.
  • Be proud of your heritage. Read and learn about your ancestors and the rich histories they made.
  • Remember that you are a product of your parent’s love. Let them know it.
  • You had no possible way of knowing my parents or grandparents as I did. You need to know that they were good people who would have loved you greatly.
  • I am part of you and you are part of me.
  • May you be blessed with children and grandchildren as I was. When you look into their innocent, beautiful eyes I hope that you see a small bit of me there.
  • If your grandchildren are going to learn values, if you are going to leave a legacy, who better to support your children in transmitting wisdom to their children than you?

Grandparents have much to share. If you find yourself at the milestone marking that crowning moment of becoming a mentor, a coach, a champion, and a friend all rolled up into one, take a moment and make a difference by sharing your wisdom with your grandchildren. Sometime in mid-November, I will welcome my grandson, Royce, into the world. His promise is my gift. I will be there for him, and give him the gifts bestowed upon me so many years ago because life is a beautiful and wondrous thing.

Guideposts of Life

In my line of work, I travel far and wide to meet people from all walks of life. Some are funny, others are intensely intriguing. Those, and everyone in between each end of that spectrum, have things to teach, lessons to impart, and memories to imprint. Being introduced and sometimes immersed in someone’s story is by far the greatest benefit I reap from traveling the world. The foods are always mesmerizing, the cultures are interesting, but the people – the people are so incredibly fascinating to me. Sometimes I feel as though my travels aren’t random happenstances but rather a purposeful itinerary that is part of a grander design to be at the right place at the right time. In a strange fit of irony, the more people I meet the more I learn about myself.

On a recent trip, I found myself stuck at a layover that was originally supposed to last fifty minutes but ended up lasting just over four hours. Being stranded in an airport terminal for extended periods is usually excruciatingly boring, but on this particular day I had the great fortune to meet someone who had a profound impact on my window on the world. Had it not been for that longer-than-usual delay, I would have missed a guidepost designed to keep me on this seemingly pre-ordained journey of self-discovery.

Her name was Katherine Dolby. She was 90 years old. I knew this because she recounted that fact several times as we sat together in Terminal C while a maelstrom of travelers swarmed all around us with places to go, bags to claim, and rides to catch. We didn’t care, though, we had nowhere to go and had nothing but time to spare. She had a very regal appearance and didn’t have a single white, wavy hair out of place. Katherine was a very proud woman impossibly full of history and folklore. I looked just like her son Edward – another fact that one could not escape as she repeated it many times. It never got old though, because when she spoke it was very clear she was holding court and you could feel the gravity in every word.

She and her husband Robert, the love of her life, brought 10 children into the world. She still lived in the same house that they moved into on their wedding day in 1937. She and Robert were both 17 years old. On this day in Terminal C, three quarters of a century later, she had survived them all. Two daughters passed from ovarian cancer years ago. All eight sons served their country in the armed services and paid the ultimate price of freedom. Robert had passed three years ago from Alzheimer’s disease. Katherine understood loss. Lesser people would have been bitter, depressed, and angry at their lot in life. Not this woman.

She told me story after story within those four hours that depicted a life filled with love, laughter, faith, tears, and hope. Each of them was a great account that served as testament to never giving up in the face of great adversity. You just couldn’t come away without witnessing the unfathomable strength of the human spirit. People always tell you that everything happens for a reason, that you are never given circumstances that you aren’t strong enough to deal with, and that when one door closes – another one opens. Katherine not only understood this, she personified it. I never felt so humbled to be sitting there with her and listening to her song.

When I gathered up enough courage to ask her how she found the strength to carry on after having experienced so much, she just looked at me with clear eyes that smiled and said, “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” After a few moments, I replied with “Voltaire”, having recognized the quote. Her face beamed that I would know it, and she followed on by telling me that she felt blessed to have lived this long. If she was meant to live another few years, she was grateful for them. If her time came today, she would also be grateful because she had a rich, full life. It was the most eloquent characterization of a win-win scenario I had ever heard. With that, she quietly excused herself to the ladies room to freshen up. She never returned. She passed away in Terminal C that day. I said a prayer, but shed no tears because Katherine Dolby had accomplished so much – not the least of which was to teach me that adversity enhances this tale we call life. My struggles seem rather insignificant in the wake of a life well-lived. Never give up – life is gift.

The Bread of Hope

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Food is a language that can mean different things to different people. Whether it means sustenance or celebration, food feeds our souls. Growing up, there was always enough for one more at the table. We never had much money when I was little, and it was always so amazing to me how mealtime was at times like a re-telling of the loaves and the fishes as we never ran out of food. To this day it humbles me and I don’t pretend to understand how that could be. Suffice it to say that one of lessons learned from food at my house was that they were gestures of faith and goodwill.

I have an old family story about my paternal grandfather that supports this notion. More than 70 years ago, my grandfather was a small-town grocer who owned and ran his own store. These were the days before supermarkets and families grew what foods they could, tended poultry and cattle, and purchased the remainder of their needs from their local neighborhood grocer. Times were hard and money was tight. So much so that it wasn’t uncommon for families to buy their provisions on credit. Being a compassionate man, my grandfather would extend lines of credit to families that were struggling. Most would buy what they needed during the week, and then come by to settle their account on pay day. Thank God this option existed because so many would have gone hungry and families would have had to send some of their children away to other relatives to live for fear of not being able to feed them. My grandfather had a very large family of his own. He understood what it took to feed a small army.

On one winter’s day, my grandmother sent one of my cousins to my grandfather’s store to tell him to come home for dinner. The story goes that my cousin found my grandfather sitting in front of the pot belly stove used to heat the store – throwing credit slips into the fire. When asked why he was doing this, my grandfather replied that many of the families in the area were struggling so hard that certain families would never be in a position to pay their bill. Symbolically, my grandfather was forgiving their debt. That story was (and still is) very humbling to me because for as many times as we use food to celebrate happy occasions, there are times when we use it to help friends and family get through tough times. These were never hand-outs. We shared what we had because it was the right thing to do – no more, no less. It reminded everyone that hope was at hand and that community was everything. Although many of us forget this today, the same principles hold true. There are countless opportunities to remind those in need that hope is hand and that they are not alone.

This weekend, my Facebook food page, Les Repas de Mon Enfance passed a huge milestone. We broke the 1000 fan mark in less than a year! Collectively, this group represents food lovers, or foodies, from all over the world. We all come from families with rich histories, interesting stories, and pivotal events that had an impact on our lives. I want to challenge each of us to celebrate this milestone by helping someone in your family or neighborhood that could use a little reminder that community matters and that hope is at hand. Invite someone to dinner. Bake two loaves of bread and give one away. Donate to a local food bank. Teach someone how to cook. Do whatever is appropriate to give thanks for the countless bounties you’ve had in your life, and share a little of it with someone who may not have had one in a long while. Food knows no boundaries. It also doesn’t discriminate based on class, creed, or color. Give the gift of food this week. Please feel free to share your stories and experiences here! Thanks to all and share your bounty..

Every Sky A Parchment, Every Ocean An Inkwell

newdaybreak

Sitting on a beach along the Atlantic coastline at sunrise can be an inspiring and majestic experience. For me, the dawn of this new day brings countless opportunities to explore previously undiscovered wonders. Watching the Sun emerge above the horizon, I see a panorama begin to unfold around me. The skyline and ocean become a tableau of both light and dark colors that form a storyboard of something epic. The spirited cry of  gulls, the mighty roar of breakers pounding against the shoreline, and the whistle of a strong northeasterly breeze all compose a cacophony of sound that sends my mind back to carefree times. Fine grains of sand between my toes and the taste of salt on my lips draw me deeper into this rhapsody that immerses me in solace. The aroma of dune grass permeates the air, and takes me to a place where everything is possible.

There is so much beauty in the world, and grand elegance found in the most simple things around us. We forget this all too often. We get caught in the unforgiving web of societal expectation, overindulgence, and the mundane. We begin to lose our identities and creative spirit over time, unless we have the courage and temerity to break free from it all. This is why I am drawn to the sea at sunrise. It helps me shed the burdens I’ve carried, gives me renewed hope that I hold the power to navigate my journey through this life story. I walk along the shore where every sky is a parchment, and every ocean an inkwell. My best chapters are yet to come!