Youngster reveals life philosophy on a grassy green

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

They were alone, the story goes, on one of those lovely grassy golf greens where little boys love to gather out of sight of adults.

One little fellow, about 8, was playing with another boy, about 6.

When a foursome approached the green, one of them engaged the older boy in conversation.

“What’s your name?” asked the golfer.

“Tom,” said the boy.

“What’s your last name?”


“And what’s your dad’s name?”

“John,” the little fellow told him.

“Do you have an older brother?” the golfer asked, intrigued by the youngster.

“No,” he answered. “But he does,” pointing to the younger boy. “And I’m him!”

I love that story. I admire the young confidence of the little fellow who refused to be defined by who he wasn’t — and instead stated clearly who he was.

He may not have had an older brother, but he was one, and that’s what mattered, he was happy to report. He reframed his negative to a positive — refusing to let his circumstance dictate his self-worth.

So often we judge our lives by our circumstances — who we aren’t and what we don’t have.

I remember in my early teens being mesmerized by the voice of a family friend who was competing in a statewide beauty pageant. One day I asked her exactly when her voice became so strong and beautiful, secretly wishing she would respond, “About your age,” so that I, too, could have a chance for a pageant-worthy voice.

“I can’t remember not singing,” she said matter-of-factly. So, after a few more months of trying to belt out her songs in the shower, I realized what I was not: a singer. I didn’t have that talent and accepted that I could not manufacture it.

We can’t grow older brothers, either, if we don’t have them –or if we’ve lost them.

But knowing our limits and accepting our losses is necessary to keep moving through life. We all have limits and most have at least one tender spot of loss — some still bright with fresh pain, others scarred but forever aching.

However, life is determined not by what we don’t have, but what we do with what we still have left.

And there is no finer place to witness that process than in the family.

The family is in the business of losing. We lose our children to the next steps of school, of college, of career, of marriage, and eventually into their own families. We watch as they grow and pull away, losing immaturity to maturity.

But family is also in the business of gaining. As they move from us, we see more clearly who they really are. And when they return, we are often enriched by the experiences that have enriched them, gaining far more than we ever lost.

We may not have much choice about our gains or losses. But as the little boy on that grassy green reminds us, we always have the choice in how we view who we are and what we have left.