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Character, I have often thought about this word and its many different meanings. It is a word so commonly used. The word is as familiar to me as Michigan Avenue, the red brick road in front of my grandparent’s house. Many of the kids in that neighborhood played there. We liked knowing our street was different, maybe even unique. After all, not everyone lived on a red brick road.
Michigan Avenue is two full city blocks long, lined with Oak trees along the sidewalks on both sides of the street. Wooden houses painted various shades of white, blue and green sat just behind the sidewalk. While growing up in one of those white wooden on that red brick road, my very own character began to take shape.
Nelson, my grandfather, my friend, my savior and my teacher of life was an important individual to me. I cherish the times that he and I shared while we sat together on the porch steps of that white stick-built house. The oak trees stood proudly a few feet beyond the sidewalk. Squirrels played, lived, scampered up, down, in between, and all around those sturdy oaks. I often remember the times we sat on the lower steps snacking on nuts and talking. My grandfather’s favorite snack always involved nuts of one kind or another.
My grandfather would rather sit in his faded and worn out lazy boy recliner, than sit on those creaky porch steps. He enjoyed having his pipe, a book of matches, an ashtray, and a bag of cherry tobacco beside that old chair. These belongings sat on exhibit atop a slender and scratched mahogany table wedged between the wall and his recliner. That little space was his domain. As a small child, I liked to sit with him in his chair. I would slowly draw the aroma into my nostrils. The smell of cherry tobacco was a scent that meant that I belonged. The living room of our rented home was small. Once I became a teenager I always preferred to sit on the porch. Occasionally my grandfather would join me on the steps.
I recall this one specific afternoon with my grandfather. We were sitting on the porch enjoying our time together, watching those little creatures chase each other around, up and down the oak trees. My grandfather was a superb listener and a master at illustrating an important life lesson. My grandfather turned toward me and said, “A person’s character is one of the most visible signs of what he or she is all about”. He slowly reached in the can of nuts and placed a peanut in between his thumb and pointer finger. He stood and took a few steps down the sidewalk toward one of the trees. He squatted, extended his arm outward and made a clicking noise with his tongue. Slowly and cautiously, one of those squirrels approached him. Inch by inch that little animal made its way up to my grandfather’s hand and retrieved that peanut. My grandfather stood, turned toward me, smiled, and said “Character is something you can see, feel, or sense”.
This is one of my earliest recollections of my search for the understanding of the word, “character”. My minds hold forever those Michigan Avenue memories, that red brick road, those colorful stick-built houses, those squirrels, and those beautiful, strong oak trees.
Research states that some oak trees have lived 200, 300, 400, or more years. Imagine the storms those mighty oaks must have survived. The inner strength and solid root system must run deep to withstand Mother Nature’s many personalities. Beetles, leaf eating insects, weather, fungi, and fire can damage or destroy oak trees if the appropriate balance of different species, nutrients, and the gentle touch of Mother Nature are not present. Many individuals and dictionaries define character as traits a person has or displays. I believe that everyone and all things display a specific character.
The capability to withstand so many external forces and the desire to flourish makes it hard for me to make a distinction between the mighty oak’s character and my own. Maybe we are not so different from those mighty oaks. Our character begins to develop and grow stronger through each one of life’s storms. Our moral fiber begins to weave and connect every time our integrity is challenged. We humans also need the appropriate balance of positive experiences, diversity of friendships, a level supply of energy, a large amount of determination, some courage, and a lot of spirit to allow our own character to develop and thrive.
I often pause and recall that statement I learned from my grandfather so many years ago. I must, from time to time, step away from myself and examine what my own character is so openly displaying to all those that I am surrounded by, involved with, or just briefly come in contact with. I ask myself, “Are you proudly displaying your character traits”? I think about those impressive oak trees and how proudly they display their colorful leaves in the fall, their character proudly on display for the whole world to see.
Character, the word remains familiar and continues to be commonly used in speech. However, the definition and the many factors that assist in the building and shaping of one’s character are very illusive and complex.
Experts have often declared that one’s personality is basically developed by the age of one. Therefore, if our personality is developed so early in life, does that mean that our character is born from personality? I think not. I believe just as the oak tree draws water up through its’ root system to grow, we must draw from the river of life. I feel that our character will never be a completed project. The development and continued growth of our character does and will continue to feed on all of our surroundings. One must be very careful concerning what the character is allowed to feed on. The stable, tall standing, ever present and charm of the mighty oak tree is what it is because of its ability to reach and stretch upward. The little acorns aspire to follow in the oak trees path. Has our own character inspired others to follow our path?
Character, it is many things to many people. To some it is just a word, yet others view it as a powerful and insightful part of each human being. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Is our character strong enough to stand tall and withstand the wind and rain? Have we planted our root system deep within?”
My mind will always hold on to those years on Michigan Avenue. My heart will always hold closely the love that was provided. My character is still taking shape. My home is red brick. My oak trees planted just beyond my front porch are thriving. My purchases always include nuts of some variety. My heart reminds me that the day will come when I too will feed the squirrels with my grandchildren and start them on their very own search for their character.