Every day, my expectations are pretty high for God to allow me to interact with people who will broaden my love for his world and the people he created. I need to see the world through other eyes as often as possible. Otherwise I grow stale.
And the conversations that happen are wonderful. I have found that every conversation either builds or tears down. Rarely, if ever, is it neutral in its impact.
A person’s life and influence are the same.
Paul echoes the teachings of Christ when he said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Last week I went to a rural coffee shop nearby to get some work done. A man came up to my table, shuffling with a cane while balancing a cup of tea. He asked me what I was doing so I invited him to sit with me.
What a treat!
Dan was ninety-seven years old. I could tell he was a man of keen insight because he thought I was thirty-five years old. He never finished school but had quite a career in the army throughout World War II and beyond. He told me a few war stories from the Pacific theater. All of them would make good movies.
But his greatest battle was fighting for his granddaughter.
His daughter had married, “the worst SOB in North Carolina,” he said (without the acronym). His granddaughter was raised in the mountains and away from interaction with others. “You had to throw a log across the creek to get to their house,” Dan said.
His granddaughter’s life was not only secluded but abusive. She couldn’t read or write and her father made her work the marijuana field behind their little home. That’s how he made his living.
When she turned 13, Dan intruded himself into her life. Dan was in his late seventies when he started to help her. He took her to a learning specialist who diagnosed her with severe dyslexia. It took a while but she learned coping skills to learn to read and write. Dan told me that he would bring her to his house and they would spend hours watching science and nature programs. What an education.
He dedicated himself to his granddaughter’s growth. The world came alive for her. Soon, it became apparent that she had an incredibly brilliant mind.
Fast forward to the present.
Now, now in her early thirties, she has two PhD’s and is a professor at a prominent Midwestern University. She has written tens of thousands of pages of research. Her work has brought in millions of dollars of funding to advance scientific study in her field of study.
Her current endeavor is raising funds for girls and women to find careers in science.
When it was time to leave, Dan thanked me for listening. Most people won’t spend the time, he said.
I couldn’t help but think of the countless number of children – and adults – who are abandoned in a private life story cul-de-sac. Unless someone takes the time to stop and help, the emptiness and despair deepens. Dan did that for his granddaughter.
A business friend who attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings every day tells me that he starts to slip when he keeps his eyes on his own problems. “The only way to help yourself,” he said, “is to help others. Getting involved in another person’s life seems like it would be a burden but it’s the opposite. When I started doing that, my life began to change.”
Why? Because that’s how God made us. We begin to find ourselves when we give ourselves away and “. . . in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”
In all of his fascinating life, Dan says his granddaughter is his “greatest achievement.” He doesn’t seem to be a follower of Christ, but when I asked him he noted that investing in his granddaughter has brought out some spiritual yearnings.
We will pick up the conversation next time. He may be ninety-seven, but I think he will be around for quite a while.