Small Stories for a Big World

After making a mistake, Doobins sometimes gives himself a hard time.

I know that tendency well. When I was younger, I regularly did that.

Then, one day, it dawned on me that I was making two mistakes. The first mistake was the original misstep. The second was giving myself grief about it. That served no purpose other than making me feel bad.

I couldn’t do anything about the first mistake. But I did have control of the second one. What made far more sense was to let the first mistake go and to do my best not to repeat it in the future.

I still give myself a hard time, but not nearly as often as I once did.

On more than one occasion, I have made a point to offer that advice to Doobins.

I feel comfortable saying something when it’s clear that what I say might be helpful. Other times, it’s hard to know whether I should say something or keep my mouth shut. As Sparkle Girl and Doobins get older, Garnet and I find ourselves talking about that more often.

Do we let them learn the lesson on their own? Or do we offer what we hope is helpful advice?

Thinking about all of that had gotten me looking back at how my parents handled things when I was growing up. As a Presbyterian minister, my father offered all sorts of what could be interpreted as advice from the pulpit. Day to day, though, he seldom told me he thought I should do this or that.

More often, my parents would talk me through a situation and then leave the decision to me. Before the third grade, they gave me the choice of going to one elementary school or another. Each had its positive points. I kept wishing they would just tell me, but they never did.

It was only later that I understood how valuable teaching me to make my own decisions was.

The lessons that mean the most to me are often ones I picked up as they were just going about everyday life. One of the most valuable lessons comes from the Saturday I went over to visit my father at church and found him cleaning out the toilets in one of the bathrooms because the janitor was sick. He didn’t have an attitude about it. He was just doing something that needed doing.

That made an impression, and, over the years, I have seen how important it is to take that approach to life, and, when possible, to steer clear of people who see some things as beneath them.

I connect another lesson with the time I was 10 or so and went with him to the bank. When it was our turn, he let someone else in front of us. We were waiting, I learned, for a dour-looking teller he had been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get to smile. When she was available, he stepped up and did what he could to make her feel a bit lighter for a moment.

Over the years, I saw him do such things time and again. When he talked with people, he gave them his attention. It was a powerful gift.

I hope that one day Sparkle Girl and Doobins will look back and feel as if Garnet and I taught them a lesson or two while we were just going about everyday life. I have no idea what those might be, though.

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