The best card I ever received was on my birthday in 1995. It was from Dave’s Grandma Gray, and she enclosed a five dollar bill. It was signed, “This is my last five dollars.”
She wasn’t being funny. Someone made her give me five dollars against her will, I think.
She didn’t know me, but she already disliked me. She lived with Dave’s family. Dave was the baby of the family. He had been traveling with a touring group when he met me- apparently a poor substitute for his last girlfriend. In fact, Grandma actually called Dave’s ex as soon as she discovered we were together.
A few months earlier Dave had received his own special birthday gift when Grandma, as a combined Christmas/birthday gift, decided to write her grandson a letter about all the reasons he should never have broken up with his last girlfriend. I guess she was pretty amazing.
I could have been offended, but it was clear that this wasn’t really about me. I am just glad I have the card. And I wish I could say this all turned out with a happy ending about how she finally accepted me, but unfortunately Grandma Gray passed away later that same year. By then we were engaged, and Dave was living in Michigan. She still wasn’t happy about it. She said I was just after his money. At the time, Dave was making doughnuts for a living.
It’s funny now to think about the kind of support our relationship received in those early days. For starters, we were forbidden to even date in that touring group. A humorous side note, really, when you consider that three marriages came out of our group.
Dave proposed at a Fourth of July event while I was visiting him in Illinois. I was nineteen and Dave was twenty. Outside of Grandma, Dave’s family was very supportive and excited for us. But not everyone was so thrilled. My boss at Meijers actually took me into his office and told me I was too young to get married. He wasn’t much older than me, and not exactly someone I looked up to for relationship advice. And it didn’t help that I looked so young. Complete strangers at work would try to talk me out of it, too.
Then there were the friends and family who thought we were ruining our lives, and remained mostly uninterested in our plans. They offered no joy, only whispers behind our back about how getting married when you are twenty is stupid. Unlike the disapproval of Dave’s grandmother, this felt more personal. Their judgment was designed to make me feel uncertain about my happiness. It took away from a wonderful time in my life that I knew was only going to happen once.
It doesn’t matter that I was right. We will be celebrating our seventeenth wedding anniversary in a few weeks, and I couldn’t be happier with the person I chose to spend my life with. Of course, I knew I would always feel this way even back then. Age brings experience, which does teach you lessons in life, but it doesn’t really make you smarter. People carry their stupidity with them throughout their lives, too. I have made a lot of dumb decisions, but I was always smart enough to know when I had something worth keeping.
But, what if that hadn’t been true? What if Dave had just been the first in a long line of bad relationship decisions for me? Does Grandma Gray win a prize? Should I send a letter of congratulations to my old boss? Do my broken relationships with unsupportive friends and family suddenly become healed?
I suppose not. In fact, I suppose the best advice is to be supportive of those who matter to you no matter how you feel, unless they are in actual physical danger. Even then, you are going to have to offer some level of support to have any impact.
Actually, you might as well extend that to strangers, too. For example, your brilliant parenting advice isn’t having much impact on the person you are talking down to anyway, so why not just shut up and wish the best for them? Be encouraging. I know, I know. It’s painful to be so much smarter than everyone else. But it’s no good. No one cares. And sometimes, even when you are smarter, you can still end up being wrong.
So put a smile on your face, give them your last five dollars, and tell them there is more where that came from if they need it. Even if it isn’t the truth.