We just finished swimming at a local recreation center with a handful of cousins who were summoned by their benevolent grandfather. Like a wise herdsman, this good man knows how to gather his flock and tend for his children and grandchildren. He is keen to pass down to his children and grandchildren experiences, not things. A philosophy I can get behind.

The kids each smelled vaguely of chlorine, the color of their eyes ranged from pink, to red, to bloodshot. And each child was on the verge of needing a nap from playing in the water for hours. After our swimming adventure, Dee (my father-in-law) invited everyone over to Panda Express, one of Mitchell’s favorites. Orders were taken and cousins quickly scattered across the restaurant claiming their tables. Mitch, wanting to sit by me, sat across the table. I loved how Mitch always wanted to sit by my side – because I very much wanted to sit beside him. There was something different about him. Something quite special. 

My father-in-law, seeing Mitch not with the other kids, decided to sit by him and start a conversation. This old man, seasoned by life and experience, leaned toward my young son and wove a fantastical story about some fictional character he created in his mind. A master storyteller, he is. Mitch gazed into the distance, swept away by his story.

I, too, was swept away as I watched these two lovely souls, divided by generations of experience, interact so softly. I thought to myself, “What an inheritance this is ...” I began to think about what we pass on to the next generation … the things they inherit from us. 

My father-in-law seems to model that old proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime.” In his own special way, he teaches his family how to fish; how to smile at an old pair of shoes and save what we might otherwise spend foolishly. He teaches his grandchildren how to be entertained without electronics and to enjoy the lost art of storytelling. That, and so much more does this good man pass down. The true value of his inheritance is a gift that cannot be counted or measured today.

When my father died, I inherited a little over $2,000. I was young and on my own; a first-year college student who didn’t know his place in the world and would have traded all the treasure of earth to have his father by his side. The world was big and I was small – a pebble in a vast sea of humans who always seemed to be in a hurry, tossed to-and-fro by the tides of culture. I didn’t care about any financial inheritance - instead, as a young man I pondered deeply on the greater inheritance – what my father really passed on to me. I wanted to live up to his good name and great heart.

So when I saw my son and his grandfather I thought how lucky they were to have each other – and I began to think back on the things we inherit. The things that really matter. In this moment I saw my son inheriting one of life’s richest treasures: a loving grandfather passing down an experience of the mind, heart and soul and my little boy drinking in the moment and every word that was told. Though he was young, my son’s soul felt old. 

The longer I live the more I have come to see that age is a mirage … it is simply illusory. How old is our soul, really? One day we will see.

When I was young I imagined living to a ripe old age ... passing down an inheritance for generations yet to be. Now broken-hearted and bereft … I’m finally beginning to see an inheritance my son passed down to me.