My grandfather’s last advice: Empathy doesn’t excuse poor behavior. Rather, it seeks to understand it and strives to redeem it.
My grandfather’s last words to me were intended to help my marriage.
Heeding them now would help our nation. Let me explain.
Grandpa was a wonderful presence in my life and just weeks after getting engaged to Beth, we met at our favorite Italian restaurant. Although he was a few months into retirement, he remained the finest dressed man in the place. His starched button-up shirt, tan slacks and sports coat were contrasted by his 25-year-old grandson’s work boots, cargo pants, and t-shirt.
During our conversation I remember checking my phone a couple of times. Each time, Grandpa would remind me that nothing was so important that it could not wait until after lunch. 82 years of living and 59 years of marriage to his sweet Caddy, had led to wisdom he wanted to impart on his newly engaged grandson. He didn’t want some phone to be the reason I missed it.
Grandpa reminisced what it was like on his wedding day, bonding with Caddy early in their marriage and how the attacks on Pearl Harbor changed their lives. He promptly enrolled in the Navy, departed with her on a train to Galveston, kissed her goodbye, boarded a ship for the Pacific. Although he kept a brave face, he wondered if he’d ever see her again.
He talked about returning home years later from the war, raising two daughters, and losing a third. He talked about how the occasional argument, sadness, or struggle was always survived through their shared faith, hope and love. And he said the secret to their marriage was steadfast commitment to remain faithfully united as one regardless of the circumstances they faced.
He then started talking about me. Grandpa let me know that, to this point, my life had been all about me: My activities, interests, friends, career, money, goals, time, life.
And for Beth, the same was true.
But on our wedding day, that would change.
We would need to completely surrender who we were for the betterment of someone else. We’d need to let go of our former life as individuals and embrace a unified one, together. We’d have to be fused fully to weather storms, chart dreams, achieve goals, raise children, survive tragedies, and live vibrantly.
Grandpa added, “John, this life is no longer just about you, your goals, your agenda. You’ve got another side to consider in every single decision you make. And the more you think through the other person’s needs, the more you’ll find not only a better life as a couple, but greater joy as individuals. Do you understand?”
I nodded, told grandpa I understood and thanked him. With my phone ringing, work nagging, and life calling, I had to run. He stood, we hugged and I said, “Love you and see you next week, Gramps.”
There would be no next week. Turns out we seldom know when we’ll be visiting with a loved one for the last time. Life is sacred, unpredictable and fragile.
Three ways to answer the call to unity.
My friends, as an individual navigating a global pandemic, challenges professionally, occasional difficulties personally, while raising four kids and trying to love my wife in all the ways she deserves, I frequently draw from my grandpa’s wisdom:
- Surrender yourself for the betterment of someone else.
- Let go of your former life as individuals and embrace a unified one, together.
- Be fused fully to weather storms, chart dreams and achieve goals.
Grandpa’s advice applies much broader than to just those in relationships. Today more than ever it is clear to me that his wisdom applies to the manner in which we engage with our fellow citizens; in particular those who look, worship, act and vote differently than we do.
To heal requires that we begin to see things from more than just our perspective. Profound empathy is required in a marriage, a family unit, a business team and a nation. Empathy never excuses poor behavior. It seeks to understand it and strives to redeem it.
What was evident to my grandfather after a lifetime of service to his country and commitment to his bride was the more you think through the needs of others, the more you’ll find not only a better life together, but greater joy as individuals.
This was the last wisdom shared to me by my grandfather, my favorite hero from the greatest generation, before he passed away.
Heeding this advice now would elevate us as individuals and as a nation.
Today is your day. Live Inspired.