Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trying to Walk the Path My Grandpa Paved

I was still young when my Grandpa passed over. He raised five children, one of them my ma, on a farm in the hills of Kentucky. He came from a long lineage of Cherokee people who fled the Trail of Tears (“Hostiles” who refused to be marched to a reservation in Oklahoma). The Federal government labeled anyone who did not concede to their forces and walk to the Oklahoma reservation – Hostile! The feds do get some things right because I have some hostiles in my family. Fortunately, my grandpa was not a hostile man. And when he interacted with me, his goal was to ensure I would not become a hostile person either.

When I was a kid my family moved to a new neighborhood. Within a short time I met and was in love with a girl in that new neighborhood. Being about eight years old, I was convinced I would marry this beautiful young girl. Before I ever had a chance to propose to her, a boy, who had always lived in that neighborhood and who also liked the same girl, began telling her and other kids that I had another girl friend and that my family was poor and our house was dirty.

Boy… was I mad and puzzled why he would say those things! My older brothers suggested that I catch the boy alone and bloody his nose. The thoughts of following my old brothers’ recommendations were very self fulfilling. Fortunately, the next day or so I was with my grandpa. He was a very quiet man. I recall looking up at him several times and he would be looking back at me. When our eyes met, he would smile and nod his head as if to say, “yes, I see you, we’re together and you’re ok now.” I don’t know if that was his intended message, but that’s what I thought and felt when we were together. I remember saying, “Grandpa, I don’t like our new house.” He didn’t say a word but kept that same gentle look. I trusted him completely which meant I had to continue. Soon I broke the silence again with the story of the boy telling lies about me in our new neighborhood. He replied with a story about a snake.

I can’t retell the exact story as it was told that day as my mind was wondering why a snake would have a girlfriend and be called poor! Grandpa said that the only time a snake will strike is when someone arrives in its area and is viewed as a threat to the snake. He went on and explained about the nature of a snake.

Everyone who knows about snakes understands their nature. To expect the snake to do something outside of its nature is foolish. If you come into contact with a snake and he feels threatened – he will strike – that is its nature. I remember him saying, “Grandson, you are a threat to this young man and he is striking out at you. This is his nature. It is not your problem, it is his.” Now…at that time to an eight year old, these words seemed somewhat perplexing. However, as an adult who has experienced a few snakes along my path, I now clearly understand the teaching.

Part of the gentleness that came from my grandpa was his ability to accept things exactly for what they were – their nature. He challenged me to consider what type of person I would be – what would be my nature? Would I be the type of person who would have the nature of a snake, reacting wildly, striking out to poison someone who I viewed as a threat to me? He promised me that whatever type of person I chose to become, people would quickly come to know my nature.

Although I’m sure my grandpa was capable of being hostile, his lesson to me was how to deal with situations in a healthy, thoughtful manner. He assured me that others would also become aware of the boy’s actions and his nature. He challenged me to continue being the boy that he knew.

I write about this memory because I recently had another snake encounter. Different snake – same nature!  While I try to stay away from snakes now days, one seemed to slither into my path. I am grateful for the teaching my grandpa offered. Trying to deal with a venomous snake in a hostile way is foolish. It is best to accept the snake for what it is and move on. Now that I understand how snakes react, I do not allow them to divert me from my path and final goals.

My grandpa was right. People will eventually come to see the snake for what he is because there are a lot more threats out there waiting. Moving on and allowing the snake to be what it is, will best serve all involved. I truly believe, in time, everyone will soon see the snake’s true nature. I also believe my Grandpa is still looking at me and I do not want to disappoint him. When I look up at him he still says, “yes, I see you, we’re together and you’re ok now.” I’m proud to be walking the path that my Grandpa paved. And I try to live my life as if he is looking at me. I believe he is. Thank you Grandpa.

Peace, DAP

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