Last year, after the first COVID lockdown, I lost one of the most important people in my life.
My grandfather, who was like a father to me, passed away. He left an emptiness behind that I can hardly describe. It may sound trivial, but the only thing I can do now is focus on the good memories, and think about the unique and memorable person he was. He lived his life to the fullest, and always with a great sense of humor.
After he left us, I’ve talked about him with my mother quite frequently. And there is something she tells me every time: “To me, he was an incredible man, an everyday genius. And he had this innate ability to spark everyone’s interest in him. Everyone loved to spend time talking with him. He was always the most interesting person in the room.”
And she was right. Throughout my life, I have met only a few people like him. At least to me, he was the most authentic person I’ve ever met. He was kind to everyone, incredibly wise, open-minded, passionate about learning, and people just loved him.
There are certain things I admired in him — and I learned from him — that I think are what made him such an extraordinary person.
Focus Your Attention on Others, Rather Than Trying to Impress Them
My grandfather had this innate ability to make people feel special in his company. He did it by simply being genuinely curious about them. His authentic interest in other people pushed him to ask interesting questions and keep the conversation focused on them.
For example, one thing he always did was to use interesting follow-up questions to keep conversations going, like “Tell me more”, “Why do you think you feel this way”, or “How did you manage to do that?” And honestly, I can’t remember anyone who didn’t truly enjoy talking to him.
The Loudest Person in the Room Isn’t the Most Interesting — Often, the Quietest Is
My grandfather was the quietest person in the room, most of the time. At every family reunion, he observed and listened eighty to ninety percent of the time. Then, when it was his time to talk, he always had an interesting anecdote to tell us, or some wisdom to share.
He wasn’t simply quiet. He listened carefully to every single word. You could tell it from the answers he gave you — always well-thought through in order to teach you something important and inspire you.
By observing him, I realized that when someone doesn’t respond right away, when they take their time to think of an answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are passively participating in a conversation.
Most of the time, people like my grandfather listen in a way that allows them to better contribute to the conversation when it’s their time to talk. And we should all learn from this example.
Cultivate Your Passions and Be a Learning Machine, Regardless of What Others May Think
My grandfather was a polymath. He studied at a technical institute and then had a 40-year-long career as an aircraft technician in the Italian Air Force. He piloted airplanes and helicopters and traveled the world. But, apparently, that wasn’t enough for him.
Because of his technical background, he hadn’t learned a lot about literature, history, art, or architecture at school. And those different areas of knowledge fascinated him greatly. He always felt thirsty to learn more. So, he learned everything by himself. He read countless books and was self-taught where architectural design was concerned. He knew everything about history. And he could give you lectures about the Renaissance, Romanticism and Modern Art.
After retiring, one of his hobbies was to design other people’s houses — he had a professional drafting table in his studio at home. Also, another thing he did after his retirement was attend a three-year evening course in Psychology.
Many people around him often asked him why he did all those things. They told him it was useless. He already had a career. A long career. And once he had retired, he could simply enjoy his time by doing nothing and relaxing.
His reply was always the same: he was cultivating his passions. Spending time doing those things made him feel alive. He didn’t care much about what others thought about how he spent his time. For him, the important thing was feeling alive doing what he loved.
Always Bring Out the Best in Others
My grandfather loved quotes. A few years ago he printed a small book with his favorite quotes and he called it Aforismi — which in Italian means Quotes. Not too long ago, he mentioned to me a quote by Henry Ford that he particularly loved:
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”
Something my grandfather truly believed in was this: We should never judge others, but believe in them and bring out the best in them.
He said we should always keep in mind that we often don’t know what’s behind other people’s actions and decisions. We never know. However, what we can always do is try to put ourselves in their shoes and encourage them to be the best version of themselves.
And I couldn’t agree more with that. After learning this truth, most of my relationships somehow changed, and for the better. And every better relationship in my life made me grow.
Make Sure to Fill Your Life with Love
My grandfather always surrounded himself with people he loved, and who loved him. And he always reminded me of the importance of family and love. One day he told me:
“Be with those who make you feel loved, respected, and listened to; be with those who give you the space you need. Make them feel loved and respected too, and give them the space they need. Don’t forget the importance of self-love, too. If you do these simple things, you will probably be happier than most people.”
To me, this is the most important lesson he ever taught me.
You can be the most powerful, successful person in the world, but if you are alone, if you don’t experience love, you are going to create a void. And you’re going to have to fill that void sooner or later.
I don’t know about you, but for me, every person who leaves us stays with us through the memories we shared with them and, most importantly, through the lessons they taught us. As Mitch Albom wisely said,
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”