“I’m proud of you… everything that you do… Remember that.”
As far back as I can remember, it has been a bit difficult for me to be around very old people. If they are old and alone, that hurts me already, but , once they have reached a point that their bodies are beginning to fail them openly, it is as though a switch flips in my mind, and I suddenly struggle to breathe, to function, to focus.
My grandfather is at this point. Actually, he is much beyond it. As we talked today, I had to clear myself continuously in order to remain present with him. I have begun missing him more and more in recent years, as there has been less and less of him to see, with whom to speak and interact. I have seen him grow more and more frustrated with his own brain, his own body as a whole, as he has lost ability after ability… ones which he had is such intense abundance. Indeed, he was one of the smartest and most learned people I have ever known. And he didn’t even attend college. Nonetheless, he was the best resource we had growing up – even better than our teachers on most subjects, and more efficient and detailed in his answers than an encyclopedia. He was one of my greatest inspirations as a child and young adult, and I think so much of me longed to be most like he was. And he always made it so clear that we were loved by him. In almost very action, every phrase or look, every article or comic strip he saved for us or television program or clip he recorded for us, it was clear that he loved us.
He, every so often, would call me “Honah Lee” (from “Puff, the Magic Dragon”), and still does. He’s always played around with pronunciations of words, both of English nature and foreign (e.g. jalapeños with a hard j and firm n). So, it was an easy step to get to calling me Honah Lee. After I had learned German, and we had long since begun to use it with one another (college and onward for me), he called me one day, and said that he wanted to share what he’d figured out so far. He then sang to me “Puff, the Magin Dragon”… in German. He had done his best to translate the lyrics. I think I might actually have cried while he sang to me over the phone. There was just something about it, I was quite overwhelmed with the expression of pure delight and love in that act. Indeed, any time he used German, I always noticed how he sparked to life, as though becoming, just for a few moments or minutes, a young child, excited for the unexpected adventure that life could and would unfold. He hadn’t been allowed to use German in school as a boy – it was forbidden by the school. It was his language of home, fun, love, and self-expression. But he hadn’t used it much beyond his childhood. And, by the time I was born he had almost never used German at all; not until I had begun learning and using it with him. And so, every time we used German together, it was like I got to know him as a child, free from the many pressures and stresses that naturally arise from adulthood, from aging. I just got to be with him. And I reveled in that.
And I still do.
However, talking with him today, discussing how, though he is to turn 91 years old in a few months, he hopes yet is not sure he will make it there, it was somewhat terrifying how easy it was to be with him. He was 100% present as we spoke about that, though is isn’t always these days. He said that he has lived a wonderful life, that he is grateful, and that he is not afraid of dying (despite the fact, as he said, that people say not to say that). I merely nodded, and cried as I said that we very much would miss having him here with us. I held his hand for a bit, and we shared multiple kisses on the cheeks and I love yous and Hab’ dich lieb’s before I had to leave.
And then, just before I had to leave, he said to me, slowly and intentionally, looking me directly in the eyes, – something he has struggled to do lately – “I’m proud of you… everything that you do… Remember that.”
And I will.
And I would not be surprised if today was the last time the two of us see one another in his life. We might see one another again, but it is not very likely. He cannot seem to eat almost anything anymore, and his body is, frankly, falling apart and shutting down on him. A could be causing B, and B could be causing A, but both are contributing to the other, and the result is the same: he does not have much likelihood of living in his physical body on this Earth for much longer.
And it’s terrifying for me.
My paternal grandfather died when I was in middle school. It was expected and not. And it was difficult yet not. The same was true of my paternal grandmother. I was in college when she died, but I was still very much in the child mentality, much more so than the adult mentality. Now, I am very much more on the adult side of life than I am on the child side, and it is an entirely different kind of experience to have this happening now. I suppose that, since my maternal grandparents had survived my childhood, something in me had felt that they would be forever present in this life. They had made it to adulthood with me, so to speak, so they were here to stay.
But they aren’t. No one is, really. But they are more obviously likely not to be here for that much longer. A small part of me had felt disappointed in myself for not providing them with what feels like would have been some of the greatest gifts I could have given them. I do not have a stable career. I do not have a partner in life. I have no children. I don’t even have a pet. I know they do not need those things for me. But that is why they would be gifts.
However, when Opa said that to me today, that he is proud of me… of everything I do…, it reminded me of why those other things have always seemed to matter. They are most often expression of success in living one’s life fully. At least, they are mostly seen that way. But, when the ultimate goal is that we live life fully… that we be true to ourselves and fully self-expressed…, I cannot say that I have failed my grandparents or that I have let them down. Indeed, I have fulfilled every wish they could have for me in relation to success in my life. All the other stuff – the marriage, the children, the house, the career – are tiny details by comparison.
I do not say this lightly nor boastingly when I say that I am one of the most loving people I know. I do not do well with keeping people at the standard ‘comfortable distance’ in life. I do not chat about the weather easily. Either I do not know you at all, or I want to know you, embrace you fully. Like Ender Wiggin said, the moment I get to know you, I get to love you. And I love loving people. It is terribly difficult and stressful for me to ‘try to get to know someone’. Just be yourself with me, let go of whatever you are hiding, let me see you, be with you…. let me love you. That’s all I want from the people around me. And that’s how I want them to see me, too – see all of me now, so that you can love me for me. Let us not waste time on pleasantries and weather. Let us dive right in, and have an absolute blast together. Indeed, that is exactly why dating is so difficult for me, why I cannot seem to ‘figure out’ how to interact with this guy with whom I went on a date recently. I don’t do surface level. I do the real you, the real me. And when people avoid that, turn or step away from it, usually in fear, it is so hard for me… it only makes me want to come even closer, that I might love you even deeper. And though this might sound like I am socially awkward, I truly am not. I can be quite quiet in certain circumstances, but I probably am the only person at the party who will know everyone else by the end of it.
And I am grateful for that. So much of who I am is love. And I have no idea what comes next for me in life. (Like… genuinely, I have no idea… please, grasp that for a moment…) But I know exactly who I am stepping forward into that unknown. And I love her and I am grateful every moment for her and for all that she is and for all that she is not. And I learned today that, more than I ever saw, my Opa feels the same way about her. He knows I’m not married, not settled in any way, not career-stable or financially stable. But he knows that I am stable, and that I am ready for whatever is through that next threshold as I step forward into it. And he is proud of that, and all that it involves. He is proud of me, of who I am, of all that he knows I will create out of who I am in this life, even though he will not be here in person to see most of it with me.
I pray only that his love, his support, his guidance help me to move forward confidently and comfortably throughout the rest of my life. I am grateful for him always. And I love him dearly, deeply, truly. Thank you, God, for allowing us the opportunity to spend so much wonderful time together in this life.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Danke, Gott.
P.S. Frohe Ostern, folks!! Happy Easter, allen!! (Not to deny the weight of all of that ^, but it was because of Easter that I was able to spend the time with my Opa today at all. And I am grateful for that. And the Easter Egg Hunt in which I got to partake. Today really was a great day, filled with silliness and love and fun. But it also was very real one, in which, I believe, God was helping me to prepare for part of what comes next.)