When I was nine years old, my family and I visited my grandparents in Arkansas. They lived on a farm in rural eastern Arkansas. Dad liked to go out on the farm with my granddad not so much for the work but because he and granddad had an understanding; if dad didn’t tell mom about granddad dipping snuff, dad could ride the horses. For a city boy that was pretty heady stuff. Mom and grandma worked in the kitchen making the best food in the world while drinking sweet tea and gossiping about all the relatives.
So that left a nine year old to wander around the farm. I found stuff my grandparents had forgotten they had. Particularly interesting, I found an old rife with 1863 etched on the side. It was left over from the War of Northern aggression. My grandfather thought I was funny marching around with a rife nearly as tall as I was. He gave me the rife and I have it to this day. It was “going hunting” with that rife that taught me one of those “life” lessons.
One day while “hunting”, I wandered into granddad’s apple orchard. The trees were relatively close together and offered a great place to hide and shot at deer and rabbits and rocks and anything my mind could imagine. The trees made good shade when the hunter became tired. About mid-day, I lay under one of the trees and started to day dream as all kids do. As I looked skyward, I spotted the biggest, reddest, juiciest apple you could imagine. No rocks were around for me to throw at the apple to knock it down. I looked for a stick and, not finding one, started to use the old rife as a stick to bang on the branches to jar that apple into my greedy little hands. Unfortunately, the rife was so heavy that I could not get control of it enough to use it. By now, I really wanted that apple! How in the world was I going to get it? Dad and granddad were working in the field and mom and grandma were in the kitchen. Then it struck me, ‘Steve, you knucklehead, climb the tree and pick the apple! That way, it would not be bruised and much juicier.
So I started to climb. Slowly, branch by branch, I inched my way to the branch holding the apple. I held onto the trunk of the tree and reached my nine year old arm toward the apple. Unfortunately, my arm wasn’t long enough. I could reach other apples which were closer to the security of the tree trunk, but they just were not what I wanted. I wanted the big red one further out on the limb. I had a decision to make; do I settle for second or third best or do I risk life and limb to get what I really wanted?
And that is the subject of this article. That day, I learned a valuable life lesson. The best apples in life don’t grow near the trunk of the tree. The best things in life require you to risk something. The risk may be money or a major portion of your time. You may need to risk relationships or peer approval to reach the goals you set for yourself. Seldom is death a factor but physical danger or potential suffering may stand in your way. A physical or mental or emotional disability may be blocking your path. You may risk your safe predictable lifestyle for a different lifestyle which contains your desired goal. There is always something that stands in the way.
Remember, you always have a choice. You can settle for the second best apples in life. You can hold onto the security of the tree trunk. You can decide the risk is too great and the potential reward is too small. And that is part of the lesson as well. You are foolish to take a major risk for a reward which is too small. Big risks should not be taken without consideration of the potential reward. Just be sure you are properly weighting the risk and the reward. Maybe the reward is bigger that you estimate.
The sad thing is that too many of us settle for second or third best apple when the best apple is what we really want. We just fear the risk more than desire the reward.
By the way, I got that apple. By moving down a branch, holding on to the branch above me and slowly inching out on the branch, I was able to pick that apple directly from the limb. Not only was it the best apple I had ever tasted, but I was beaming with pride when I finally made my way back to the main house.