The love of your family makes you somebody.
I have been writing a Journal and Courier column for more than 41 years. People sometimes ask me if I have favorite, and I do have several columns that are very special to me.
One of them I wrote about a little boy who called himself "nobody." Here is part of it.
It was Sunday evening. There was nobody home but me. I was downstairs in the dark watching television when I heard several footsteps above. I turned off the TV and went to see who had arrived.
As I walked to the steps, I saw a form standing there. The tiny shadow, just 36 inches tall, froze still in the darkness as soon as I got near. "Who is that standing in front of me," I bellowed, leaning down to speak.
There was a short pause, and the answer came back in a tiny voice from our nearly 3-year-old grandson, Mattie.
"Nobody," he said.
He spoke shyly. He said it like he was thinking maybe I had asked this silly question because he had done something wrong. So the safest thing for him to say was "nobody," and therefore admit to nothing. And he said nothing more.
"You aren't nobody," I said. "You're Mattie." He didn't answer and ran upstairs, where I guess he thought he'd find more rational adults to deal with.
The image of him standing there in the darkness has stayed with me. For a while, I didn't know why. But I understand now.
Today you're only 38 inches tall, Mattie, and you're still too little to know what I'm talking about. But someday you'll grow up. Someday you'll be taller and stronger and a lot smarter than your old granddad. And when that happens, you'll find there will be days when the world will overwhelm you and make you feel like nobody. Maybe someone will tuck this away for you to look at then.
You aren't nobody, Mattie. You were made by God who made the stars and the moon and the sun and the Earth - the great mountains and deep oceans. And you mean more to him than all these things. You're the smile that shines darkness out of your parents' lives and rekindles youth in your granddad's heart.
You aren't nobody, Mattie. You're the one and the only. The original you. You're as great as the love you have for others and the love they have for you. And that makes you somebody, somebody very special . . .
There are times when all of us feel like nobody, Mattie. I know sometimes that's how I feel. Sometimes I wonder if I've ever done anything that really matters -- and if I ever will. That's when I think about my family, and I feel a whole lot better. That's when I think of you.
I'm not nobody. I'm granddad.
You aren't nobody. You are my grandson.
And nobody will ever have a better grandson than you.
I went on and on, as only grandparents can.
Fifteen years have passed since I wrote that column. And this weekend our grandson Matt graduates from West Lafayette High School.
Do you know the first thought that comes to a granddad's mind when he realizes his second grandson is graduating from high school: "My gosh! If he's 18 then how old am I? I must be ancient."
The second thought is, "Where has all the time gone."
Nobody ever knows where time goes. We just know it goes. It disappears in a heartbeat while we occupy ourselves with work and worries, endless busy tasks that drive and clutter our lives and, of course, the neighbors' dandelions.
A wise pediatrician once told me adults could never visualize time. "Do you want to see what time looks like?" he asked. "Look at your children. That's what happens during time."
I remember when Matt was 3 and I wrote that column. I remember he used to like going into a big box of old women's clothes, wigs and hats my wife kept in the basement and he would dress up, just as she knew he would. I remember when he decided it was cool to wear neckties and was always the best-dressed person at our family gatherings. I remember his sports and his drums. I remember when he was 36 inches tall.
Today, I look up at him, in more ways than height.
That's what the passage of time looks like. The passage of 18 years looks like our grandson. The passage of time has gone into him. And it looks very good.
Here's some advice, Matt, as you begin college next fall studying biochemistry at Purdue.
Don't bother trying to explain to me what biochemistry is. The last time you tried you lost me at "It's . . ."
In college, when you split a midnight pizza with a bunch of guys, eat fast if you want more than one piece. Pizza around college guys disappears faster than time around granddads.
You will learn that a good way to pick up a little cash is to sell your textbooks. It's usually not good to do this in the middle of the semester when you're still using the books. Don't ask me how I know this.
Don't wear flip-flops when you walk to class in the snow. You don't want to wear them out before Spring Break.
Don't procrastination. One of these days I need to talk with you about not procrastinating. But I don't really feel like doing it right now.
Your mother will not come into your residence hall room to pick up your clothes. But she might call to ask if you've brushed your teeth.
Never turn in a term paper to a professor as a text – especially if it doesn’t have any capital letters, periods, commas or paragraphs.
Keep God first in your life.
Make good friends. Keep them for life.
Take your time. But find someone special to love. Love her a lot. Always.
Visit your grandparents often!
Take your granddad golfing.
And never, ever forget – you are somebody!
And nobody will ever have a better grandson than you.