More and more, when I single out the person out who inspired me most, I go back to my grandfather. ~ James Earl Jones

My Grandfather taught by example.

He was the person who most influenced my life, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay someone.

My Grandfather was a jovial person. He was full of life and he was a great story-teller.

He would hold everyone with awe and laughter with his numerous anecdotes. I loved every single moment in his presence. He taught me so much. Nowadays many young people resent the pieces of advice given by their grandparents.

When you open your eyes and think broader, you’ll understand that these words are real pearls of wisdom.

I was very lucky that he survived – in good health – to see me get married, graduate high school and start college. I was lucky that he transitioned on and did not see me get divorced, become involved in drugs and struggle for many years.

On almost every break during my freshman year of high school, George and I got to spend it with Grandpa Bell in San Leandro – 636 Maple Court. It was about a 45 minute drive and Al would take us over, drop us off, and then pick us up after the break.

He never came in to Grandpa’s house nor was he invited in. We always met on the porch.

Although my Grandfather was about half the physical size of Al, he was ten times the man. And my father knew better than to piss him off. I think Al respected my Grandfather and also feared him.

I’d like to talk about some things I learned growing up and spending time with my Grandfather. Hearing about the gifts my Grandfather gave me may be useful to you.

My Grandfather died when I was twenty-five.

It was a long time ago that I was a little girl, however, he is one person I would give almost anything for to be with again.

My Grandfather taught me many valuable lessons.

He did not choose to take the credit for any positive impact he had. He always gave that credit to my mother, his daughter.

What do I want to tell you about him and what I think helped me?

I think my Grandfather approached life as an adventure. Sometimes it drove my Grandmother crazy.

My Grandmother used to like to plan things, and my Grandfather used to like to just show up in life. I think the adventurous spirit he had about life was a gift for me in his approach to me as a child, a teenager and an adult.

I remember my Grandfather asking me about my first year in high school.

“I really feel as though I don’t have the kind of friends that I want. Nobody invites me to go to things with them,” I said.

“Well,” my Grandfather said, “when nobody’s inviting you, invite them. Who do you like? Who do you want to get to know?” He said, “To make friends everybody has to go more than halfway. You have to go more than halfway to make friends.”

He said, “You have to go more than halfway to make friends,” partly because I was an introvert.

Being an empathetic introvert was a barrier that he knew I had to break down to connect with other people.

Going more than halfway was how he approached life.

I think it was a very good lesson.

I started inviting people to do things.

“Go do things! Don’t wait!” my Grandfather always said. My Grandfather also gave me permission to break the rules, so I broke a few. Actually more than few. I think that was also part of his approach toward life as an adventure–being curious and not having to have the right answers all of the time. Like most children, looking back, I have to say that I never thanked my Grandfather for a lot of the things he did. I took him for granted.

One other interesting example I’d like to share with you – Every single time I visited my Grandfather, he would take us to the cemetery to lay flowers on my mother’s grave and allow me all the time I needed to just sit and talk with her. That was a blessing and he knew I needed this time.

The last time I remember saying, “Grandpa, it’s really very nice of you to do this.”

He said, “Doretta, I want you to have the chance to be here because I know how much it  means to you. In life it is important to do the things that you want to do. At some point you’ll come on your own. Right now I can do this for you. It’s all right.”

His matter-of-factness, his pleasure in wanting me to have the opportunity, were important to me and was an enormous gift. He loved me unconditionally. And, similarly, I felt a pure love for him. People speak about ‘unconditional love’, yet it’s hard to achieve until it bursts upon you. It is total, absolute, and therefore has a spiritual quality.

Unconditional love spreads from one person to many. It becomes all-encompassing, embracing not only people yet also nature, the whole of creation, the cosmos.

To experience love on this vast scale is transformative. All doubts about self-worth, and the value of others, whoever they are, whatever they say and do, is banished.

Judgement comes to an end. For these and so many other inexpressible reasons, my Grandfather was for me a great gift beyond price.

Should I be able to be like anybody, I would wish to become more like my late Grandfather, whose memories have inspired me to strive for success, like the smell of old, dusty books which reminds me of his admiration on learning. An avid collector, he had many books, all of which he read. He owned books on everything from famous buildings, to cooking to traveling in France, and he had several sets of encyclopedias. Every time I visited we walked to the library and got three to four books to read while I was with him. After he faced health problems, we walked less to the library and read fewer books. I always knew I was important to my Grandfather and when we were together he centered the days around George and I.

Grandpa Bell had a big, bustling personality. Maybe the fact that his own father had died young in an accident, gave him a sense that life is fleeting. He made the most of the best things in life and the least of the worst. He wasn’t a sermonizer, yet to be around him was to learn how to live. I picked up things from him. Some of the lessons he imparted were large and metaphysical, others minuscule and mundane. I’m surprised at how many have stuck with me, and how relevant to my life they remain. Here are a few.

Cry when you need to: My dear Grandfather advised me to cry when I was disappointed about something. Now I realize that crying is an essential part of my mental well-being. Crying is not the sign of your weakness, rather the ability to feel and experience different emotions. It releases stress hormones and toxins from your body. Furthermore, it gives relief to your heart and soul.

Don’t burn bridges: This huge world is actually small and interconnected. Don’t burn bridges, no matter how tempted you might be, because you never know how many times you’ll have to cross the same river. My Grandfather explained to me that I needed to always stay in good relations with people I know. Now I realize that this wonderful advice is the key to building a good reputation.

Even when someone is abusing you don’t hit back or abuse back: It’s them that is on the receiving end of karma. Allow yourself to move on.

Family first: When my father showed up two hours late to pick up George and I, and then made a wise guy loud crack about “their just kids, nothing important.” Grandpa Bell walked down the five steps in front off his house, got in Al’s face, and critiqued him in a series of short, simple sentences, beneath his breath that we could not hear. Al was never late again.

Forgive those who wronged you: Stop clinging to the past, move on and live for all the moments you are blessed to receive.

Get to it: My Grandfather simply got up before anyone else. By the time another human was up, he’d started breakfast cooking, coffee brewing, swept the front walk, and worked two hours in the yard. When he wanted to sit on the porch for a while in the afternoons and read the newspaper, he’d earned it.

How to get a perfect night’s sleep: In his kitchen late at night during the summer, just before bed, Grandpa liked to slice a ripe peach into a bowl, then pour a bit of milk on top. It was his form of a nightcap. This remains one of my favorite things. Like Grandpa himself, it’s straightforward, uncomplicated, and never lets you down.

Keep money for rainy days: Life is an unpredictable thing and you never know when the sun will come out again to cover you with the sunshine. When I was young I couldn’t manage my money properly. My Grandfather taught me to keep some money for the rainy days in spite of stable incomes. Today, I realize that it’s impossible to disregard this old truth.

Keep the game on: All summer in his roomy house in San Leandro, a San Francisco Giants game was on Grandpa’s transistor radio. He kept it turned down low, so it simmered in the background, like a pot of chili. My childhood was a good time to be a Giants fan. Willie Mays and Bobbie Bonds were my heroes, and their exploits filled my mind as accounts of them percolated through the afternoon air.

Know when to splurge: All his life Grandpa scrapped, scrimped, and saved. All his life he also dreamed of owning a Cadillac. One summer finally feeling financially comfortable, he bought one—a big blue monster 1969 Cadillac De Ville. It was the size of a parade float. A year later he had a small stroke and was not allowed to drive any longer. Grandma Ollie took over all the driving. She hated the car, however, kept it for her dearly beloved husband. He still washed it every week.

Laugh as much as possible: Nowadays laughter and smiles are the best medicine from pain and stress. I find humor unique because it’s absolutely free and you cannot buy a frank and funny laughter. You can easily improve your mood and help others to smile in return. It’s surprising, however, laughter is infectious, because many people cannot resist the sound of a roaring laughter. Smiles often bind people together and bring their bodies and minds into a balance. Plus, humor lightens your burdens and increases intimacy and happiness. My Grandfather always taught me to use smiles and laughter as the best diplomatic trick to handle difficult situations. I want to admit that it really works.

Look up: I often asked my Grandfather for advice. One day on our walk tG the library, I grabbed his hand and asked “What’s the one piece of advice that I need right now Grandpa?” He thought about it, and said “look up.” I took his advice to heart. Whenever life seems to be getting the best of me, I slow down, and look up. I look around and soak in the world around me. It works every time. Want to see the world? Slow down, and look up. You’ll be amazed at what wonders you’ll see.

Love and respect everyone: And this he taught me not with the goal that the same will also happen to me in return – only for the sake because everyone needs to be loved and respected.

Take care of your digestion: Grandpa Bell was a devotee of Horace Fletcher (1849–1919), a health-food maniac known as “the great masticator.” Fletcher believed, as did my Grandfather, that you needed to chew each bite of food thirty-two times. Grandpa liked to torture George and I with this dictum. I no longer Fletcherize my food; it makes a steak taste like bean paste. Grandpa understood, long before Gwyneth Paltrow, that when your guts are happy, the rest of you stands a decent chance of being happy, too.

The loudest person is usually the least interesting: My Grandpa often sat quietly in the corner of the living room. He was a soft-spoken man. Respectful. Articulate. Introspective. The quietest guy in the room most times. Yet everyone was drawn to him. He was not filled with bombast. He never demanded your attention, and yet he always had it. Want to be more interesting? Close your mouth. Breathe, look around and listen.

Thriftiness counts: Grandpa came of age during the Great Depression, a time of want, and he couldn’t bear waste. He never threw away anything he might need again. Paper towels? What a way to squander money. When he needed to blow his nose, Grandpa went to the bathroom, ran the taps, and with an odd sort of formality emptied one nostril, then the other, into the sink.

Use everything: He didn’t have a mystical bent, yet Grandpa sometimes carried with him medicinal roots and leaves he’d gotten from a local Native American Indian friend.  These included ginseng root, chicory leaves, and wood sorrel. When George had a toothache, he pulled a chunk of root out of the cupboard and said “Here, chew on this for a while.” My brother looked baffled, yet gave it a shot. This made me smile.

And the greatest thing which he taught me which he did with all sincerity and I at times struggle in implementing is: Give with the intention of no expectations.

Grandpa Bell was respected by all the relatives and every person who ever met him.

Being with him throughout this year made me believe that God really did exist.

Every time I hugged my Grandfather goodbye he told me: “you take care of yourself.”

As I became an adult and he grew older I began to toss it back to him, saying “you take care of yourself, Grandpa!”

He was right. I was no longer that little girl in the radio flyer wagon he watched over on our sidewalk adventures. I was out there walking the sidewalks of the world on my own.

As I walk I carry with me his advice, to take care of me. With his words he ensured that I would be okay when he transitioned on. That day came, and his advice lives on in me.

In life we will inevitably lose loved ones who have cared for us, as they will transition on, and we will have ourselves until the end, our only lifetime guarantee of care.

In always caring for ourselves we will be more effective in supporting others and in engaging the world. I loved my Grandfather very much and I can not imagine my life without him. He gave me such great advice to get me through the hard times.

Always appreciate what you have, you never know who needs it more than you want it.

Just a simple reminder with this parting: you take care of yourself.

“Allow yourself to enjoy each happy moment in your life.”– Steve Maraboli


How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?