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James Renaud Carter

Lessons from Grandpa Jim

My grandfather died unexpectedly when I was two.  I have no memories of him.  It’s seems odd that some of the ideas that often run through my head are the lessons that he passed down through his children.

Growing up, I simply accepted that I only had one grandparent on my father’s side of the family.  My grandfather was someone we rarely talked about, but I learned little bits about him over the years:  he was a Marine; he owned a ranch in Phoenix; and his favorite flavor of ice cream was vanilla.  I gathered that he was a fairly stoic man, and according to others, he would have been content to lead a boring life if it wasn’t for my grandmother.

My grandfather was only fifty-seven when he died of a heart attack.  I think it was easier for my family not to talk about him because when they did, they had to relive the pain of losing him.  About ten years ago, I got curious and started asking questions like, “What was grandpa like?”  From that came an outpouring of stories about this man and the lessons he passed on to his children.

  1. Life is Choices. This is probably the simplest and the most profound statements I carry with me.  It is absolutely true that a person’s existence is made up of the choices they make – where to go to school, what profession to enter, who to marry, what to do in frightening situations, etc.  Who I am is what I do and what I do depends on the choices I make.  This even applies to what I think about and where I put my energy.  The best part of this lesson is the fact that in every situation, there is always a choice.  Neither option may be desirable, but there is a choice nonetheless.
  2. Finish Strong. I practiced this lesson this weekend during a 5K race.  By the last quarter mile, I was hot, tired, and wondering why I ever thought running was fun.  Regardless of all this, I still dug deep and finished with as much speed as my legs could produce.  I hear this lesson when I get senioritis with school being almost over and when the end of a project in on the horizon and every fiber of my being wants to slack off.  This is the lesson I draw upon when I have to take a deep breath, ignore all fatigue and distractions, and tackle the task at hand.

When I think about the lessons from my grandfather, I feel like I am carrying part of him with me.  I literally carry a part of him with me too because I carry one of his handkerchiefs most of the time.  It’s comforting to think that I’m not going through the stress and challenge of law school alone, even on the days when I am completely isolated working on homework and projects.

Photo courtesy of the Carter family.