(This is the second post on the life of Chester Tyra. Also see the other posts: The Man Who Never Had a Bad Day, My Name is Daniel, and I Was His Best Friend Too, FUN, and What Made Him Who He Was.) It wasn't by accident that Chester became the kind of man who, at the end of his 86 years of life, could genuinely say- as he always had- that he had never had a bad day. No, it was a lifetime of choices about how he thought, what he did with his time and resources, and how he interacted with others that all added up to make him able to see the profound good in every day he lived, regardless of what the circumstances said on the surface.
As I've become determined to end up having more of the kind of attitude he had when I come into my 80's, I've thought about those habits Chester had that added up to make him who he was, and the first one that came to mind was his generosity.
Not many Sundays went by when I was a child that I wasn’t sitting at Chester's side in his pew about halfway back on the right side of the sanctuary at our church, and if I was there at his side, Chester would always give me two things: a Jolly Rancher to put in my mouth and money to put in the offering plate. I’m sure that over the years he spent a small fortune on Jolly Ranchers, simply because of how much he enjoyed giving them out to kids. And I’m also sure that those dollars he gave me to put in the offering weren’t the only ones that he gave away for the good of others.
One of my favorite examples of his quickness to give to others was when I brought a friend home from college. I was off at school in Kentucky and I made a good friend named Paul, who to that point in his life had hardly been out of the bluegrass state and was making his first visit to Texas with me. I took him to meet Chester, and Paul mentioned to him that one of his goals for his time in Texas was to get a cowboy hat. When he said that, Chester got up from his chair, went into his closet and came back with one of his own for Paul to try on. It fit, and Chester just gave it to him. It ended up that Paul loved that hat so much that he will forever be the only person in our college yearbook who had his picture taken wearing a cowboy hat- Chester’s cowboy hat.
It's likely that the majority of people who ever knew Chester have some story of his giving which few others know about, and it's been fun to hear some of those stories even decades after they happened. For example, his wife recently mentioned that years ago Chester had a young man working with him on one of his oil rigs. Chester found out about the young guy’s desire to go to college. Rather than just wishing him luck and getting back to work, Chester told the boy, “I’ll put you through school.” Then he did.
He didn’t flaunt his generosity, so I’ll stop the stories of them here, and I only include them to illustrate how generosity was a habit for him, something that was ingrained in him deeply enough that it wasn’t at all difficult for him to give for the good of others.
Some of the moments with Chester that I’ll always cherish the most were in these last few years, after I moved back to Midland, when even though his health was declining, it gave me more chances than I’d had ever had before to just sit with him and hear stories of his life. One story from his childhood helped me to understand where his generosity came from:
He said that as a boy he was walking to town with his father one day. His father always kept a dollar bill folded up in his shirt pocket. As they were walking, a man came up to them saying that he was hungry and needed help and didn’t have any money to buy food, so the elder Mr. Tyra took the dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to the man.
As they kept walking, Chester said that he asked his father why he did that since it was the only dollar they had with them, and his father told him that the man asked for help, and he could help, so he gave the dollar.
Later in the day, as they made their walk back home, they walked past a saloon and saw the man they’d given the dollar to inside the saloon drinking. Chester said that he got angry and pointed the man out to his Dad. His father’s response was, “That’s okay, son. If you give a dollar to a hundred people, ninety-nine of them might go do something like that. But think of the difference you’d make to the one who really needed it.”
We often try to make ourselves into generous people, then we just revert back to being as we always were. But with people like Chester, to whom it was more natural to be generous than to be stingy, he never had to grit his teeth and make himself give to others while he really wanted to keep things for himself. No, his generosity began with a story like this that was deeply ingrained in him, then that story shaped his own habits throughout his life so that by the time I came along, giving to others was so deeply ingrained in him that it was simply part of him.
What's a story that has shaped the generosity of someone you've known?