This morning as I read more about the fellow humans who were killed in Texas on Sunday, I was—like I’m sure many of you—overcome with emotion. Their personal stories, not unlike many of ours, are simple, unpretentious and real. They leave behind earthly dreams that will be unfulfilled, and loved ones whose lives will never be the same.
In February of 2014, I wrote a story about my granddaughter, Lauren, who was, then, eight years old. It was a story that got a lot of response, not because of the way I told it, but because of the truth in it. For some reason, I was drawn to read “Lessons Learned From an Eight-Year-Old” again this morning. Through my own tears, I realized that sometimes the simplest messages are the ones most needing to be heard.
Lessons Learned from an Eight-Year-Old
This is a love story. It’s about my granddaughter Lauren. At eight years old, she has an innocent clarity about life. Sure she lives in 2014 in an area of the world where there are a lot more “haves” than “have-nots”. Yes, she has enough food to eat, people who love her, health and intelligence. On the flip side she goes to school with children, who in third grade, already have cell phones, use inappropriate language without thinking twice about it and can be downright “mean”. She could already be caught up in a “the world revolves around me mentality”, but she’s not.
She is smart and athletic and graceful, but don’t most grandparents talk like that about their beloved grandchildren? What stands out to me is how I continually see this amazing spirit. She inspires me.
Lauren shared that sometimes at school, she likes to sit at different lunch tables because “not all the kids have someone to eat with.” She has plenty of friends to sit with, but she is aware when someone else might need a friend.
If she doesn’t do something that she’s supposed to (clean up her room, have her homework finished, take the dog out, share with her brother) she doesn’t lie and doesn’t manipulate it. If she messes up she owns it and always tells the truth.
We went shopping at Christmas time so that she could get small ($5) gifts for Mom, Dad, Pop-Pop and Ethan (her younger brother). She recognized that she had a budget, but figured out a way to spend a little less on the three older people so that she could get two things for Ethan, “because he’s the youngest.” She knew it would mean a lot for Ethan to have something extra. She understands how to make someone else feel special.
One day my daughter, the grandkids and I were playing the “what would you be if you could be anything?” game. I answered “famous author.” Lauren said, “You already are a famous author Nana.” Since I have published something, to her I’m famous. She knows I’m not a “star” but she lifts up, and honors, the people she loves.
When she noticed that some kids were actually being mean to other kids she talked to the guidance counselor about an anti-bullying campaign, and offered to stay in at recess to make posters. She understands that not everyone is nice, and that not all situations are rosy, but she believes in the power of change.
Disney has a new movie called “Teen Beach Movie”. It’s happy and innocent with a lot of music and dancing. Lauren declared, “This is my favorite movie. It will always be my favorite movie.” Of course, I know that as she grows up (too quickly) there’ll be lots of favorites. What’s cool is that she’s able to definitively claim what she likes.
Chocolate is her favorite food (next would be salad…which is ironic). She doesn’t get it often but when she does she savors it and enjoys it. Even though my Mom died over 4 years ago, Lauren remembers the fun they had every Wednesday when we all had dinner together. Each week she shared a chocolate dessert with her beloved Great Grandmother, and she still laughs about it. She cherishes the sweet parts of life.
She is patient, loving and kind to her little brother. She listens to him. She helps him with multiplication tables, projects and games. She’ll sit next to him patiently while he’s reading aloud and whisper the word in his ear when he gets stuck. She is loyal and protective.
At Christmastime, Lauren’s school held “Operation Santa Claus” to give toys to children who wouldn’t have otherwise had any. Lauren and her grandfather went shopping together and bought twenty stuffed animals. That night, when we were talking, she said that while walking back to her classroom alone, after taking the bags of gifts to the guidance counselor, she, “felt good inside to be able to give something without getting anything back.” She’s a typical little girl who has plenty of possessions but she appreciates the joy of giving to others.
Of course, I realize that my perspective is influenced by my love for, and devotion to, this little girl, but I do believe she has a lot to teach:
1. Inspire someone.
2. Be aware when someone might need a friend.
3. If you “mess up” own it and always tell the truth.
4. Understand how to make someone else feel special.
5. Lift up, and honor, the people you love.
6. Believe in the power of change.
7. Definitively claim what you like.
8. Cherish the sweet parts of life.
9. Be loyal and protective.
10. Appreciate the joy of giving to others.
How would your life be different if you always told the truth, including what you like and enjoy?
What would you get by giving freely to others, or reaching out to someone who needs a friend?
How would it feel to know that you have the power to change what needs changing?
What would it be like to understand, inspire, honor, be loyal to and cherish the people in your life, each day?
Last night, as we sat in my car, we again talked about life—very different conversations than we had over three years ago, but her awareness and empathy are still guiding compasses in the way she’s choosing to live. Even though she’s now in middle school, she moves between three different lunch tables. She’s passionate about animals and music. She’s still a straight A student who continues to play soccer and take dance lessons. And, she’s still compassionate and kind, while she marches to the beat of her own internal compass.
I pray for care and peace and love for our world, while we listen to the way our hearts and spirits desire for us to live.