Last Sunday we were given a chance to talk to each other about our memories of our grandparents. Two of our girls had just lost their grandfather who was a pillar and a patriarch, and they told us some of the things they’ll miss about him.
These times can never be comprehensive and say everything there is to say, but the opportunity brings to the surface some of the cream, the richest and most enduring aspects of the people we love.
I heard myself talking about my grandpa. Totally ad lib, some words and memories came tripping out.
I didn’t know my grandpa as soon as most children do, because he lived with his family in El Salvador when I was very little. They came up on furlough when I was three, and my first memory of him is when this tall black-bearded man crouched down with his arms open, expecting me to run to him. I was afraid of this stranger and refused to go to him.
They lived in Central America for more than five years and he would happily have spent the rest of his life in El Salvador. He learned to preach in Spanish. Locals there called him Papi Juan.
Recently a friend used her wise counselor voice on me: “I wonder if your itchy feet and love for the open horizon is part of your pathology.”
Hmmm. It was a new idea. It’s possible that it’s part of my brokenness. I don’t want to be trapped. I like plenty of space and freedom. It might not always be a good thing. I remember how Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
But I also wonder: this man who tromped easily around foreign countries and opened his heart and arms to people, I carry some of his genes. It is ironic to me that I was tramping around Rome the day I got the call he was dying. Maybe his endearing himself to his big world is part of the reason my heart feels stretched tightly across continents. Living that way is part of my normal. It’s how my family and extended family have lived. (There’s a cost to that, maybe some pathology, but this post is not about that.)
This is the tribute I wrote on the flight from Europe to Chicago, and had the honor of reading at his funeral. Today I’m asking God what it is that would give Him the most glory–where should I live, what should I throw my energy into, who does He want me to embrace and care for? Following my Grandpa’s footsteps means “home” is not necessarily a static address. It could be that, but it’s not a given.
It took someone else’s grandpa’s death to remind me of how I’m shaped, how I make my own choices but they’re not made in a vacuum. And I have more than one grandpa, and not two, not three, but four grandmas. Family lore, genes, traditions, even broken places, help to shape the pieces of me.
None of us are self-made people. This is cause for deep humility and gratitude.