I never had a grandfather.
Well, okay that’s a little bit of an overstatement because if I didn’t have grandfathers, I wouldn’t rightly be here to have typed this, would I?
What I really mean is, I never knew my grandfathers. Both of them passed away before I was even born, so I never got a chance to meet them, to hear stories about how they fought in the war, and to glean from the grandfatherly advice that so often emanates from an aging, wizened soul.
I recently flew across the nation to be in a wedding that joined two of my dear friends together. It was beautiful, and for an entire week I got to explore Seattle — a place I had never seen before — and glimpse the awe-inspiring sight of Mt. Rainier and sip a brew from the first and original Starbucks establishment.
The wedding took place on Friday, and afterward I stayed around the church and reception hall to help break down all of the decorations and say goodbye to the family and friends I had met.
As I was getting ready to leave, I happened to notice an elderly gentlemen sitting in a chair leading into the reception hall. I had seen him once or twice before that same day during the wedding but only in fleeting glimpses and never long enough to really notice anything special about him. This time, though, as I was walking toward him, he turned to me and looked me full in the face.
I saw a twinkle in his eye — a look that said, “I know so much about life. Come, sit, let me share with you what I have to offer.” Before I even had a chance to say anything or acknowledge him, he began:
"You’re the one who played the song, aren’t you?"
The bride and groom had asked me to play a song during their wedding ceremony, to which I happily obliged.
"You know, never stop doing that." He spoke always with a smile on his face and with a jovial but intentional voice. "Never stop pursuing the things that God has given you a talent for and a passion for and opportunities to use."
At this point, he asked me my name and I told him who I was.
He shot off again, “You know what Joe, if there’s one thing I could tell you, it’s this: don’t fear old age.”
He began to tell a story:
"When I was young, I was walking through a park in fall, and I came upon a tree whose leaves were all changing color. It was surrounded by trees whose leaves had either not changed or had been slowly falling away. As I stood there observing this, I heard God speak to me and say, ‘Do you see this tree, with all of its leaves painted beautifully, surrounded by the trees whose leaves are not?’ I told Him that I did, and He spoke again and said to me, ‘This is what it will be like in your old age. You will begin to understand that growing older is like a tree in fall — it is the time when the fruits of your life radiate and reflect most beautifully. It is a time to enjoy everything that has come before, and everything that is about to come.’"
He had a deep nostalgia in his eyes, almost as if, for the short moments he was telling me this story, he was back in that park having that conversation with God all over again.
He looked at me and said, “Joe, that’s what old age is like. That’s what it’s going to be like for you.”
"And you know what, let me tell you one more story:"
"Another time, when I was a bit older, I was walking again through a park as I often like to do. I came upon another tree that grew larger and more ornately than the other trees surrounding it. I heard God say to me, ‘Do you see this tree?’ I told Him that I did. He then said to me, ‘In the same way that this tree has grown in the midst of all of the other trees surrounding it, so you should learn to grow where I have planted you.’"
"Joe," he said, "you need to grow where God has planted you, because He’s planted you there for a special reason."
I don’t know where this man came from and I don’t know where he went, but all I could think at the time was that God placed him here for the sole reason of speaking into my life and encouraging me in faith.
This was pretty much confirmed to me as, right after I thought it, he said, “Joe, I want you to know that us meeting and talking together was not coincidence.”
We both conversed for a few more minutes before parting ways, as it was getting late and those breaking down the decorations needed extra help.
If I could have, I would have sat next to him and listened to his stories for hours. I wanted so much to be able to continue talking with him and to learn from the wisdom of an aging but still very living heart.
I think, for the short time I got to talk to this man, I felt what it must be like to have a grandfather. I learned so much from him in just the short time it took to tell those two stories; I wonder how much more I would know and how differently I would perceive the world and spirituality if I had someone like this in my life to glean from at a moment’s notice.
But I think the point of all of this is reflected in what he said to me. Basically, that God has made me who I am, given me talents and abilities, blessed me with the people I have in my life, given me fruit to water and care for, and planted me in the place he wants me to grow because that is His calling upon my life. That is the way He forms me into the man He wants me to be.
I now direct this to you. God has made you who you are, given you talents and abilities, blessed you with special people in your life, given you fruit to water and care for, and has planted you in the place where he wants you to grow.
I hope this encourages you as it did me.
The truth is, I believe all of us could stand to learn a thing or two from those who have gone before us, who lived a great deal of their years away as we were just beginning to live our own, and who, with twinkles in their eyes, beg us to come and sit next to them to hear the words of an aging, yet fiercely living soul.