“If you’re going to be dumb, you have to be tough.”
The smartest man I have ever met taught me this at the impressionable age of five. That year, he also attempted to teach me calculus while reconstructing a lamp shade we had broken throwing a ball inside the house.
The first time my grandfather shared his wisdom with me, I was in tears after agreeing to let my older cousins push me down the hill in a wheelbarrow behind our grandparent’s house. The wheelbarrow hit a bump and tipped over on top of me, which put a huge knot on my head. My cousins all ran away, fearing my grandmother would punish them the way any self-respecting grandmother from Alabama would.
My grandfather, who we all called Pop-Pop wobbled down the hill and scooped me up from the grass. Before he could examine the extent of the damage to my head, he said, “If you’re going to be dumb, you have to be tough.” Initially I was offended that my grandfather thought I was the one who decided to get the wheelbarrow out of the garage, but I had in fact agreed to let them push me down the hill, despite my remarkable five-year-old judgment.
After this realization, I stopped crying. In fact, I stopped crying about most things children cry about. When I was nine I fell forty feet out of a magnolia tree while attempting to climb to the top of the tree. When I hit the ground I did not cry, maybe because I had the breath knocked out of me, but I walked home without shedding a single tear. I was in pain, but crying would not help me feel better. When I was 12, my mom took me out of class one day because Pop-Pop had been in an accident.
Before I could jump to conclusions, my mom ensured me that everything was going to be fine, but Pop-Pop had broken a few bones. At the ripe age of 76, my grandfather was hit by a truck when he ran a red light on his bicycle. When we arrived at the hospital, my grandfather was laughing with his ridiculous best friend, Allan. After gingerly hugging him, for fear of breaking another rib, Pop-Pop said, “If you’re going to be dumb, you have to be tough.”
Pop-Pop was by no means dumb. To this day, I have never met someone as smart and happy as he was. When I was 21, Pop-Pop died of kidney cancer while I was reading to him in our living room.
The death of someone had never affected me so much, and for the first time in years I cried.
I was crying because something happened to me that would affect the rest of my life. I would no longer see my grandfather at holidays, on weekends, at my basketball games or award ceremonies. He wasn’t going to be at my wedding. Everything that happened to me before this point that upset me, like failing a test or getting a speeding ticket, was not going to affect the rest of my life, so I never spent time crying or being upset. I did not see the point.
I would rather enjoy the happy times and forget the mistakes. That’s when I realized the point. “If you’re going to be dumb, you have to be tough.” If you’re going to be dumb and go over the speed limit, you can’t complain when you get a speeding ticket. If you’re going to let your cousins push you down a hill in a wheelbarrow, you can’t cry when you hit your head. Crying and complaining only makes you think about a dumb mistake longer than you need to.
Despite being in the hospital, he was not lingering on the fact that he made a stupid mistake and broke some bones, he had moved on. I wish I had had this epiphany while my grandfather was still alive, so I could let him know that I finally understood the secret to his happiness. He never let anything bother him that was over and couldn’t be fixed because there is no point.
You can’t fix dumb mistakes, but you can be tough and not let it ruin the great life you have.