THE CHAIN

THE CHAIN

From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

The Chain

Some people come to Nashville and slowly lose sight of who they are. They forget the simple pleasures. They forget their roots. They forget their own story. They don’t understand that we are all like links in a chain, connected to our past and connected to our future—our children.

My story starts like a lot of people’s stories—with my dad. He is my link to the past, to a simpler time. My father was, and still is, a major influence in my life. He was a preacher and a man of great wisdom, strength and generosity. Although our family wasn’t rich, it felt like we were rich because of the amount of love my father gave us and the way he expressed it. Now, learning to share with my own kids that wisdom my father passed along to me is my way of continuing that chain unbroken.

When I was a kid, a lot of folks were down on their luck. Often when they’d come into town, the first person these folks would call on was the preacher. I remember once when some people came to our house who didn’t look particularly respectable. I called my dad and he came to the door. I heard our visitors tell their hard-luck story, and in my gut I knew they were being less than honest. In disbelief, I watched my dad give them money. After the whole thing was over and they’d left, I asked, “Do you really think those people were telling the truth?”

My dad said, “Honestly, Son, if I had to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ I’d have to say ‘no.’ But it doesn’t matter.”

“But telling the truth always matters,” I said with that little-kid insistence that comes from always knowing more than your elders.

He said, “No, it doesn’t matter, Son. What they were doing is what they were doing; and what we were doing is what we were supposed to do. They expressed a need, we had more than we needed, and so we gave to them. God will deal with us and what we do the same way he will deal with them and what they do. Really, the two things do not depend on each other.”

My father’s wisdom struck me. I think I’ve carried that wisdom with me into my life, and I think that is the way I want to live. Some people spend their whole lives “keeping score”—they feel they have to come out on top in every encounter. I’m sure there are lines that you can cross where you can be completely taken advantage of by strangers and even people you think are your friends. But you have to ask yourself, “Does it really matter?”

I’m the guy who always stops for the down-and-out men by the side of the road. Like many people, I assume that many of them are going to use my money to buy cigarettes or liquor—but I am still my brother’s keeper. I have more than I need. I can give. And for every needy guy who doesn’t use the money wisely, there’s a deserving guy with an honest, hard-luck story that will break your heart.

I make sure my children know that it’s important to stop and help. It’s important to give at least a little bit everywhere you can. That’s the part of Dad I pass along— my part of the chain.

In caring for our part of the chain, my family does work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tries to grant the simple wishes of terminally ill children. For some youngsters, attending my show is what they wish for. I’ve never turned anyone down. My wife is also very involved with Make-A-Wish. Sometimes, Make-A-Wish children come and stay at our farm when it’s close to their last weeks of life.

My own kids are five, eight, and ten and are at various levels in understanding our efforts to ease the suffering of others. My wife and I never cease to marvel at the way our own children respond to seeing our acts of simple kindness. Our children know that these Make-A-Wish kids are dying, and they know what we’re doing is—on a grand scale—futile. They know what we’re doing isn’t going to change the outcome dramatically, but they’ve come to realize it’s still the right thing to do. It’s still giving what you can give. It’s making your own little corner of the world a little bit softer and nicer for someone else.

Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to be able to show kindness to people you know personally. For many years, we employed a man who drove our tour bus. He had a daughter with very serious health problems. After receiving a lung transplant, she suffered a relapse and eventually died at the age of fifteen. A few weeks before this girl passed away, her dad brought her out to our farm where I keep a small plane. Although the girl had experienced emergency flights for surgery, she had not been conscious during any of them. Her last wish was to fly in a small plane.

The kids and I sat and talked to the girl and her parents for a while before I took her up to fly. She had an oxygen bottle with her containing a supply that was supposed to be good for forty-five minutes or so. We climbed into my little plane—a Piper Super Cub—where I got her and her oxygen strapped into the backseat. If you’ve never flown in a small plane, you’ll have to trust me when I say it’s one of the great pleasures of life. You really are, to a large degree, free as a bird. It’s as near to the Wright brothers’ experience as you’re going to get.

At the time we took off, it was that magical hour just before sunset. I could hear my young passenger start giggling. And she didn’t stop giggling for the full twenty minutes we were in the air. She had this constant, sincere, but low-grade chuckle for the entire time. I think it was the freedom of it all—those moments of pain and struggle were all but forgotten in the air and we could just soar.

When we came back, the girl’s oxygen bottle was almost completely empty. She had been back there breathing up her oxygen with the sheer happiness and thrill of the ride. There was more joy on her face at that moment than I can ever remember seeing on anybody’s face. After she went home with her parents, my son asked, “Is she gonna die, Dad?”

I nodded my head solemnly.

“When I grow up, I want to be able to do things like this for other people. To make them happy,” my son said.

It was then that I realized the chain was continuing— unbroken. Because that’s exactly the way my dad taught me.

Gary Chapman

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