Love, Faith and Community
To say the past month has been busy would be a major understatement.
From the usual beginning-of-the-year meetings and goal-setting to fine-tuning the preparations for our tenth Studio Owner University® (which just wrapped up), I’ve been shoulder-to-shoulder with my team working like crazy to make sure we’re serving our people with the highest-quality content.
But something stopped me in my tracks a couple of weeks ago, quieting the work.
Actually that something was a someone. My Grandpa Al.
Grandpa Al, at 90 years old, was diagnosed with Stage 5 kidney disease and moved into hospice care at home. So I dropped everything to go see him.
On my way there, I was flooded with memories. Grandpa Al was quite a character and growing up, I drew a lot of inspiration from him. He was one of 16 kids who grew up on a farm, with only Polish spoken in the house. Being from a poor area and with the farm to tend to, Grandpa Al never finished elementary school. He later joined the army and served in Korea. After his return, he got a factory job and eventually saved up enough money to open up his own business—a marina called Al’s Marina and Polish Yacht Club.
I remember sitting on the barstool of the marina as a child, watching the people come and go. It was sometimes a rough-and-tumble place, but always full of loud and loving people. Grandpa Al knew everyone by name. They were river people who were clammers, fishermen, locals, northsiders—and even out-of-towners.
This place Grandpa Al built was my first introduction to what community truly felt like, beyond the business. On Christmas Eve, for example, Grandpa Al and Grandma Marilyn would open the doors to their home for EVERYONE to come over. And, according to my childhood memories, I think everyone DID! This gesture of “come as you are; come one, come all” had a profound influence on my emerging faith as a kid.
I was remembering these gatherings when I pulled up to Grandpa Al’s house recently and headed inside. He was sleeping in a hospital bed by a window in the living room, with a John Wayne western playing low on the television across the room. To be honest, I’m not sure if he recognized me at first. But his eyes opened wide as I sang my best Jesus Loves Me to him. And he seemed comforted when I picked up his cat, Jumper, to snuggle by his side.
My mom and I were only there for only an hour or so before the house transformed into a mini-scene from the old days at the marina, with family and friends from the bar starting to show up.
One guy, who arrived on his four-wheeler, said he’d been a regular at the bar for almost 30 years. He showed up to make sure Grandpa Al’s front walk was shoveled, and asked if Grandpa Al needed any help getting adjusted in his new bed. Next in was the bar’s cook, who was on his break. He was just making the rounds to check on Grandpa Al and would return again later.
As I got back in my car after our visit, I couldn’t stop thinking about this outpouring of support—of love and faith and community. And, it just BROKE ME. In the best possible way.
Here were these people—many who’ve lived their own versions of a tough life—showing up and giving what money can’t buy: Time. Attention. Dignity.
It made me appreciate more than ever where I came from and the power of true community, whether it looks like guys on four-wheelers from down the block, long-lost family from states away … or a bunch of studio owners from around the globe.
It reminded me, even though I knew it already in my heart, that we ALWAYS need to see beyond the cover of a book. Everyone has a story. Everyone has hopes and dreams and something to give. Everyone has something to teach.
The investments we make in PEOPLE are the ones that will matter at the end of our lives. It’s the love we share, the faith we bring, the community we build.
Last week at Studio Owner University®, I got the news that Grandpa Al had passed on. He left this earth on Tuesday, just after I had been speaking about him on stage. It was as if God wanted me to ensure Grandpa Al’s story was told; that his life was celebrated … and so it was.
That visit with Grandpa Al will stay with me forever. He clearly made his impact. And I couldn’t be more proud to do what I can to pay his legacy forward and inspire others to do the same. <3