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Some Of What I Need to Know, I Learned from my Uncle Jeff

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.

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