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Lessons in the Woods

I have such great memories of my maternal grandfather.  He was strong yet gentle.  Kind yet firm.  Wise yet humble.  A man of great faith.  My grandpa was an honest, hard working, good man. He was a stellar example of a father, a patient teacher, giving me my strong work ethic.  He taught me lessons that have stayed with me throughout my life, and I continue to aspire to be a fraction of the man he was.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandpa lately.  I can’t help but to wonder what he’d think about all that has happened these last four years.  MAGA.  Abuses of power and the impeachment.  The pandemic and the polarization sparked and fanned by the man in the highest office in this great land.  I wonder what he might have felt about the current President, about his followers and fans.  It makes me think of a quote my grandpa was known to have said to his children, “I can stand a thief, but a liar be damned” which I’m pretty sure comes from an old proverb that says, you can lock your door from a thief, but not from a damned liar.  

With everything I know and every memory I have of my grandpa, I’m certain he would have never supported a man like Trump and would have nothing less than contempt for the man’s reprehensible behavior as a human being.  He’d condemn all this behavior that’s gotten into people, fed and stolen their minds.  I can see my grandpa’s facial expressions, hear his voice, “Whaaat? garbage,” he’d say.  And he’d be just concerned and deeply baffled, as a majority of us are, by how this Presidency has gotten away with all that it has.  The incompetence, arrogance, unbelievable negligence, the gross indecency, and especially the reprehensible, countless lies. 

I can stand a thief, but a liar be damned.  

I think a liar was pretty evil in his book.  But what is worse—the President or his followers?  Evil does not rise on its own, it must be fed and it begins within us. 

Some of my favorite memories of my grandpa are the many summer days I helped him fell trees throughout his back property for firewood on Brooks Road in Muskegon, Michigan.  Over the noise of the chainsaw he’d communicate with me, with hand gestures, where to fell the tree, so I knew to be on the ready, standing at the right spot well behind him.  He occasionally let me make the first cut using the chainsaw.  He’d often repeat don’t be afraid of it, as he would guide me on guiding the saw to make its cut.  “Let the chain saw do the work.  Its job is to saw, your job is to hold it steady and guide it,” he’d teach.  He had a lot of faith in such a little boy.  But he helped that little boy conquer his fear of the noise, of the chainsaw’s power.  And that was mighty.  And there were so many other lessons he taught me out there on the back property in those woods.

After felling a tree, grandpa would begin limbing and bucking the tree and I’d begin to lift and carry pieces I could back and onto the tractor’s trailer to be hauled back to the house where we would chop, and stack.  It was a lot of work, but fun and I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed him.  I remember being enamored with my grandpa’s strength watching him swing that axe and breaking apart huge logs in a single swing.  I wanted to be like him.  One day he let me take a swing with the axe.  I remember its weight, maybe weighing as much as I did.  But he showed me where to place my hands, how to stand, where to place the axe on top of the log and vision it splitting, and how to swing it back and overhead and back down upon the log.  With my first few attempts, I couldn’t quite get the lift of the axe.  “Hold it firmly, don’t be afraid, trust it.”  I tried and tried.  I finally began to make contact with the surface of the log but not its center often overshooting the log.  I began to get upset and started to think I would never be able to do it.  My grandpa continued to encourage me but with each missed swing, I grew more frustrated and then the axe began to get heavier and heavier until eventually, once again, I could no longer get the lift on the axe.  “I just can’t.”  I exclaimed. 

Then my grandpa shared the story of the two wolves.  Years later as an adult, I learned that this story was told by Billy Graham during those years in the 70’s which is probably where my grandpa heard it.  There was a bit of controversy over the story or proverb, but however it might have originated or otherwise been told, my grandpa shared the story of the two wolves with me:

 “A fight is going on inside me,” a grandfather said to his grandson.  ”It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, resentment, lies, fear and ego.”  He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The wolves are fighting to the death.

Wide-eyed, the boy asks his grandfather which wolf will win.  The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

“Don’t allow your frustration or anger to get in your own way, don’t feed this evil or it will consume you.” 

I’ve since come to learn this is a universal truth—what we continue to feed inside our heads will continue to grow inside our heads and will get in our own way as good and evil are fighting to the death leaving the victor to consume us.  The universal law of attraction, what we think about, we bring about.  We have the power to feed the good inside each of us.  To become better versions of ourselves.  All major faith traditions point to this universal truth.  Jesus taught us this by His example.  It’s real, it’s powerful, and it works.  

I always strive to feed the good wolf.  On my journey throughout my life I’ve chosen courage, love, hope, truth, kindness, empathy, compassion, generosity and I believed.  With every major decision I’ve ever made—it’s never led me wrong.  From joining the U.S. military as a young man; accepting my truth and coming out; creating a family through adoption and journeying to foreign lands to do so; moving back to West Michigan to raise that child, while being able to continue my career—through it all I’ve remembered the lessons my grandpa taught me in the woods, felling trees, chopping wood.  When I look with hope toward the good in the world, I see more hope, I see more love, I see more kindness, more compassion, more faith.  I see more good in others. 
May I never forget my grandpa’s voice, his face, but most of all his example and lessons he taught me and the love he showed me—the love he had for all his children. 

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