Fifty years ago I turned 18, a few weeks after graduating from high school. My head was filled with dreams of heading off to college. My bank account was bolstered by countless graduation cards filled with $5, $10, and $20 bills. I was filled with certainty in the knowledge that so many relatives and friends believed in me. The feeling was one of confidence.
Those first post-graduate weeks were spent lounging in Lincoln City in the company of Grandpa Morris and cousin, Dave Falk. Returning home, I began my second season as an ice cream vendor for another cousin, Dan Silvestri selling popsicles from a three-wheel Cushman scooter. That summer job netted me $1,032, plus all the Sidewalk Sundays I cared to eat.
One thought however, did not cross my mind. I spent no time reflecting on what life might be upon reaching the age of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, many of whom had sent cards and offered words of encouragement. It isn’t in a boy’s nature to think about growing old. It’s certainly of an older man’s to ponder what has long since passed.
My Dad never finished high school, but insisted I go to college. My grandfather provided funds for my first year. After that I was on my own and worked summer jobs to pay my way. If I’ve learned one thing in the ensuing 50 years, its thankfulness––the knowledge that I stand today on the shoulders of those who came before. We exist because our parents brought us into existence. And they too, through generations stretching back to the beginning of humanity.
I’ve grown to recognize how blessed I’ve been by those who blazed the trail to where I now dwell. And to recognize the debt we each owe to those who helped us along, taught us a song, or how to belong. To better cultivate that sense of obligation, we owe it to those coming after to pave for them a better path forward, in gratitude for that trail blazed for us. And through it all to rely on the grace of God whose plan unfolds every day, whether be helped or hindered by each daily action we undertake.
Perhaps my great-great grandmother who came across the plains on the Oregon Trail said it best:
“Our being in this world is not accidental. We all have a mission to do some special work, and it is work that will honor Him and bless those around us. If we do not find that work and do it, our life is a failure; the true end of living is not realized. We may not learn in a moment; but step-by-step, day-by-day; as we go on things will be made clearer. Those who do the smallest things well because they are God’s plan, are to be honored far above those who do great things for the world’s praise.”