Last week, my uncle died. The details of how and when aren’t as important to me as the simple fact that it was way too early. Jeff had a major impact on my life, and having had time to grieve a little and say good-bye, my thoughts have turned to how I might honor the impact Jeff had in my life.
The first thing that came to mind when I considered this was the title of a book – “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. In fact, I considered titling this series of essays “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Jeff.”, but it just didn’t ring true. First, Jeff didn’t teach me everything. When I needed to learn to drive or the meaning of honor; my Dad showed me the way. My Mom was the one who taught me to be true to my heart – to not be ashamed of being the sensitive kid – and she taught how to make an omelet. Trombone was all Miss Blakely. I taught myself HTML.
So I didn’t learn everything from Jeff. But the things I learned from Jeff, from watching him live life, are things that only he taught me. I suppose I could have learned these things elsewhere, that there are some great books or phenomenal people who could have showed me the way. But for me, there are a handful of things where Jeff was my Yoda, the Jedi Master of Living.
And I hope that I can share some of these things with you.
I’ve decided to take them a lesson or two a day for this week. In part, it is giving me a way to process my own grief and realize my own loss. It is also my opportunity to capture the lessons before they fade into memory. Most of all, it is a way for me to honor one of my favorite people in life, my Uncle Jeff.
So, without further ado, I give you Lesson #1:
##You are OK
I know. It doesn’t seem like much of a lesson. Even applying it personally – “I am OK” – sounds more like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch than some great lesson to be learned. And perhaps that is because you may not know me that well.
For the majority of my life, I wasn’t sure that it was OK to be me; more accurately, if it was OK to be me, then I wasn’t doing it right. It seemed like every time I had it figured out, things would change. I’d discover a love of language and poetry in early high school only to find that I also loved Geometry. Just as I figured that I was a math & science guy, I picked up an instrument … and joined the choir … and eventually got the lead in the school musical. And then came Physics & Calculus.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which box I was in, which one I should be in, and how to get there. And I never seemed to be in the right box. I changed my major in college multiple times, usually to unrelated departments. I took electives ranging from creative writing to classical Greek. Upon graduation, I worked three jobs in two years: working as admin help in a soup kitchen, a copy tech at Kinko’s, and an interim youth pastor position. And with every change I would wonder if I would ever figure this thing out; would I ever “find my place”.
And somewhere in the middle of it, I noticed some similarities between my life and Jeff’s. Every time my family visited, there was a new project Jeff had undertaken. I was never 100% sure what Jeff’s current hobby was or what new thing he would be into the next time we saw him – like my life, the connections weren’t always clear. The more I tried to fit Jeff in a box, the more I realized they just don’t make Jeff shaped boxes.
And one day, Jeff and I talked about it. It was some family affair, and Jeff was only responding to an off-hand remark I had made (probably some pot shot at myself) and he simply said, “Boxes! Who needs ‘em!”
It was a landmark on my own personal journey, the day when I considered that maybe my life didn’t need to fit to some prearranged set of expectations. Maybe, just maybe, I could live my life as best as I knew how and find out that I was OK. For me, it was the day I started paying a lot more attention to the things I could learn from Jeff.
So, just in case no one in your life has never said it:
You are the way you are. And that is OK.