My grandfather’s hand held firm on my rudder throughout my life, even after he was long gone.
My earliest memory of a lesson that stayed with me throughout my life was at age 4 or 5. We had planned a day at the beach, just the two of us. I had him all to myself (and he, me.) Before we got on the train, he took me into a small shop that sold children’s clothing and toys, and let me pick out something special for the day. I chose a colorful pail and shovel, imprinted with my favorite cartoon character. I was as happy as a child could be.
We set out a spot on the sand. He took me into the water and held me while we dove through the waves, me clinging to him tightly while laughing and giggling in pure joy.
Back on our blanket, he showed me how to make sand castles.
On the next blanket, there was a boy about my age, who did not seem very happy. His mother was kissing and touching a man who I learned later was not his father, but his mother’s new boyfriend. They were secretly drinking beer even though it was not allowed on the beach. They were in their own world and mostly ignored him, except to yell at him for some small infraction. His older brother, maybe about nine or ten, entertained himself by harassing his younger sibling.
The boy seemed lonely so I invited to join me, building castles. He was a fun and willing playmate, running down to the water’s edge again and again to fill the bucket to wet our pile of sand. My grandfather had brought some lunch along, and I offered him half of my sandwich, which he ate hungrily. Even in my child’s mind, I had the impression he wasn’t very well-fed.
When it was time for us to go, my instinct was to let him keep the bucket. I recognized, in my childlike way, that I had so much more than he did. I had many toys at home and he probably had none. I had parents and grandparents who loved me and paid attention to me. His mother treated him like an annoyance. But the pail had been a gift from my grandfather. I wasn’t sure how he would feel if I were to give it away.
I asked him.
“It is yours to do with as you please. You have to ask yourself if it is better to keep it or if it’s better to use what you have to make other people happy. I have found that sharing with others makes me much happier than keeping things all to myself. I am proud that you feel the same way.”
And so, I gave the boy my special toy.
My grandfather could have replaced it for me but he didn’t. This was a good thing. If he’d bought me another, I would not have remembered the lesson. Missing it reminded me of the pleasure of sharing, the joy of making another happy.
A few years later, I was in the small grocery store my grandfather owned. A boy, about thirteen or fourteen, came in and took some cans of food and hid them in his clothes. Grandfather caught him. I expected him to be outraged; to give him a lecture and call the police. But instead, he recognized that the boy was poor; that he had stolen only to eat. So instead, he offered him a job. It didn’t pay much but it was enough to keep him from stealing. Grandfather often gave him food to take home to his family. The boy worked for him for many years, until he left to join the army. From this, I learned that believing in someone can change their life.
When the school bully started harassing me, Grandfather explained to me that bullies puff themselves up so nobody will see how weak they really are. They were not to be feared, but rather to be pitied. And so, I learned to show compassion in the face of fear.
Even after Grandfather died, his lessons remained with me, guiding me in my judgment and in my relationships with others. He was then, and remains even here, my spiritual teacher. We have been together in other lives previous, and will be together in the next life coming. Not always as grandfather and child, but always as teacher and student.