July 10, 2003 - Lessons I Learned from My Grandfather

My Grandfather Bill and Me

Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.

--The Buddha


When I was a teenager, my grandfather, William Heidenreich, routinely proffered one simple but significant piece of advice. With a resolute countenance and pointed finger he said, "Choose your friends with care."

Like most teenagers, I was strong-willed, blasé, and jaded from a decade and a half of life experience, and so I found this unsolicited counsel annoying and almost affrontive to my world-weariness. Choose my friends with care? I didn't want to hear it. I was fully capable of choosing my own friends, thank you very much.

As many teenagers grow up and come to appreciate the wisdom of their grandparents, I realized that my grandfather was right. In the typical process of growing up, I experienced various mishaps with so-called "friends," and, after each mishap, I heard Grandfather's kind baritone voice echoing his simple, sage counsel in my mind. If he'd been so astute about the importance of choosing friends wisely, then, perhaps, other things he'd said also had some sense and wisdom to them.

I remember Grandfather's lifelong love of learning, his fierce devotion to his family and community, his exuberant friendliness, and his delighted appreciation of cultures and religions outside the American mainstream. I am fortunate to have inherited his appreciation of diverse cultures, and I chose my college major, Anthropology, due, in no small part, to his example.

Grandfather was particularly proud of a set of Chinese characters that were prominently displayed in the home that he'd shared with his wife of 72 years, my grandmother Rosa. I don't remember all the characters, but one that has stuck with me since childhood appeared to be two people standing arm in arm:

The character -- which means together with, all, total, and share -- exemplifies how I remember my grandfather. He was a man who stood together with many people in his life, who may not have known everything about everything -- but was closer to omniscience than almost anyone I have ever met. He was a man who maintained an unconditional respect for other people, and did not hesitate to share his experience and wisdom with those around him.

These are the simple but timeless lessons I learned from Grandfather:

Choose your friends with care.

Do your best in all your endeavors.
Live within your means.
Success is possible even in the most difficult times.
Develop a lifelong love of learning.
Appreciate all cultures.
Be reliable.
Practice an ecumenical spirituality.
Devote yourself to peace.
Learn to properly tie a tie.
Know when it is time to move on.



William C. Heidenreich
(May 28, 1911 - July 9, 2003)




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