Patricia stared at her empty hand. A chill swept the back of her head, wrapped around the sides, and moved into her ears and face. Cold vibrations shook her spine, legs, and toes. At the ripe old age of 24, Patricia could sense that she was in for a heartbreak.
Seems like it was only yesterday that she played in that shady back yard, ran up and down that hill, scampered through the sprinklers, and dug in the sandbox. Patricia needed Grampa’s steady hand for navigating the rocks that bordered the scraggly lawn. When she and Grampa strolled along neighborhood sidewalks, his firm grip spoke of security yet whispered of love.
Patricia will always cherish the lessons Grampa taught, lessons that grew from the man’s unwavering morality. “Patty,” he’d say with crinkled brow above focused eyes, with a wagging and crooked finger, “there is right, and there is wrong, and you gotta know the difference.”
Clarity was something Grampa never lacked. He taught Patricia that hurting someone for selfish gain is always wrong. But defending herself from harm is never wrong. Walking away from a problem she’d caused without trying to fix it is immoral — no exceptions. Patty must earn the means to acquire the physical things that create a decent life. Only then should she turn to acquirning the extras she’d like to have, rewards that allow her to fulfill her desires. And she must never expect anyone to give her anything she didn’t earn. Taking something that doesn’t belong to her, well that’s stealing, pure and simple.
Reflecting on Grampa’s lessons, Patricia recalled many teachings, teachings that now surged back and forth between heart and brain as she again felt the feeling, that wonderful feeling that always came from being with Grampa.
“Every time you break your own rules, you throw away a little piece of yourself,” Grampa would sigh. “Keep it up, and you walk with the zombies.”
Patricia had always understood. When you litter your trail through life with rotten slices of your soul, with awful results of immoral choices, you’re not really living, but contriving, making things up to suit personal preferrences. Lately she’d become especially good at keeping herself together.
Patricia grinned, quite automatically, when she thought about that one particularly sublime lesson that Grampa had taught. Gramma and Grampa did fine. Not amazingly well, not terribly badly, just fine. They had enough money, not a bunch of money. Gramma had focused on being Mom and Gramma, and on smiling. Grampa had a career but called it off to work at loving Gramma and Ginny and Jake and Louis and, of course, Patricia. He found his smile. The man’s playful self-assurance impressed everyone in his life. In the process of loving a wife, children, and grandchildren, Grampa had developed a surefire recipe for contentment: Grampa decided to be happy.
Patricia had felt Grampa’s decision ever since she could remember feeling anything. Though her mom said that Gramma and Grampa had known tough times, Patricia never sensed any hurt, any disappointment from Grampa.
With Grampa’s hand now gone forever, Patricia vowed to continue on as Grampa’s pupil. She now knew with certainty that keeping good people in her life makes it easier to choose happiness. And she understood a corollary to this latest lesson: showing and telling good people how much she appreciates them strengthens her own happiness. Waiting until the good people leave before realizing the importance of expressing love will spawn more of the same regret Patricia now faces, for she waited too long to express that love to Grampa. She will not repeat the mistake.
A sense of accomplishment flows from being a high achiever. And yes, material success does breed prosperity. Yet, another fundamental truth — the ultimate lesson — takes precedence. Though ecstatically happy high achievers walk this world, not one of those movers and shakers found their happiness in mere getting. Peace comes after a single decision.