on friday morning i got word that my grandfather harold, father to my mother, left his body and returned back into the unexplainable ether from which we all came.
he was 91 years old and, up until this past year, had more energy and a busier schedule than most people i know half his age. a year or so ago, his health began to decline and energy levels dropped – but he still stayed actively engaged with life and was intentional about getting out to spread love and positivity each day. in fact, until very recently, he continued to preach at a monthly service, perform in two choirs, visit the skilled care facility where his wife of 67 years (my wonderfully wise and witty grandmother) lived, so they could have their daily scrabble game and dinner together, host a bible study in his apartment building, organize regular garage sales, scout thrift stores looking for things to gift to his family, friends and neighbors (and resell at his own garage sales!) and have countless other little routines of engagement and service that i didn’t know about, i’m sure. i never knew him to exercise in any formal way, and his favorite food groups appeared to be sugar and dairy, but all of this kept him vibrant and healthy for nine decades.
i did not know him well when i was growing up. he and my grandmother were missionaries in japan for over forty years, spanning the entirety of my childhood. by the time they had returned to the states, I had already flown into my adulthood and away from the midwest. when our paths would cross, for much of my 20s and into my 30s, i honestly found him somewhat hard to relate to and steeped in a theology and political position that felt about as far from mine as was possible. i’m sure he felt the same about his tattooed and pierced prodigal granddaughter who no longer held to the christian teachings that he had dedicated his whole life to. i felt judged by him and he felt, i can imagine, worried for me.
and then in the last several years something shifted – in us both, no doubt. my confidence and ease with myself grew and i had more space to see others for who they were, rather than as a threat to who i was. i began to see how similar we actually were — and how much of me was a reflection of him. now, when he would say to me that he and my grandmother “pray for you every day” at the end of each conversation, or ask some variation of whether i was “right with god” i no longer had a knee jerk reaction, or heard judgement and fear — but rather i felt the emotional subtext underneath it of …“i love you.” i felt his heart – eager to let me and everyone he met find the freedom and joy he discovered through his faith – and sad to imagine an eternal life without me – or anyone he met – in it.
he was a complex man, full of light and shadows where the light is blocked, as we are all. and somehow in these last few years i felt the purity of his soul, even the parts that were hidden in shadows. i saw all the joy, gregariousness, creativity, flamboyance, compassion, dedication, tenderness and truth seeking that i feel in myself. i feel deep gratitude for him, not in spite of his complexities, but along with them. i no longer see those places of constriction or pain within him (and me) as brokenness or weakness, but as cries for love and attempts to find his, and our, way back home.
and now, he’s home. wherever that is. and now i am here – wherever this is. and i sense we are both at peace.
the last conversation we had, just a week ago, started with the words ‘hello gorgeous! are you as gorgeous today as you were yesterday?”
(gorgeous: “characterized by magnificence or virtuosic brilliance,”)
this what i shall strive to be grandpa, not by pressing the repeat button on your belief systems or theology, but by shining my light, at least as gorgeously and magnificently as you shone yours.
today also marks the ushering in of a new lunar year – a day when the stars are aligned to support a new view and fresh start. may we take this opportunity to consider the people who have shaped us – ancestors we know or those we will never know, family, teachers, friends who are just like us, as well as those who are so different and so hurtful to us that they stretch us out of our minds, into our hearts, and smack dab in the center of our souls, where nothing other than love and light exists.
loving you, in all your gorgeousness.