Reading with Grandpa (Clearly, I am the small, bald one.)
I feel incredibly blessed to be able to say that I've had many strong, wonderful influences in my life. Through the years, these people have encouraged me, inspired me, and brought to the surface the most authentic , if most hidden pieces of my soul. Who I am, and perhaps more importantly, who I am becoming, would not be possible without them.
So with this in mind, I’d like to tell you about one of the special ones; a man who has left an indelible hand print on my heart: my grandfather.
When my sister and I were growing up, our grandparents lived in Carlisle, PA. It was always such a treat to go and visit them, to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa. They lived in a large, beautiful old house, and Laurie and I spent our summers devouring books on the wrap around porch. Christmases were spent in Carlisle as well, and the large house was filled with joyful laughter and warm, sweet christmas-y smells. My formative years were spent surrounded by the love of family in that house, and in my heart I still consider it home.
Grandpa was blessed with 6 granddaughters, and he loved each of us with all he was. He recognized our unique talents, and had special ways of showing each of us his love. When we got to spend time with Grandpa, we knew we were the center of his world. He was quick to brag to his friends about all the things we were doing, though we rolled our eyes and blushed outwardly, on the inside we were glowing.
Some of my favorite memories are from when he would take me with him on one of his “downtown trips” -- usually to the bank or the post office. Carlisle is a small college town (it houses Dickinson College), and “our house” was across the street from the college—which meant we had the luxury of walking pretty much everywhere. It was such an honor to be asked by Grandpa to run errands with him, and I remember holding his hand and chattering excitedly to him about everything when I was small (i.e.: we had a particularly memorable conversation when I was about 5, when I tried to convince him I had another sister, whom he had never met ...) We would take joy in everything we saw—new buds on the trees, a shiny penny on the sidewalk, colorful bugs(!), the sunshine breaking through the clouds… As I got older our walks were not so much filled with conversation, but a comfortable silence, and I believe, still the mutual wonder and awe at all that surrounded us (and I still held his hand as we crossed the street.)
My Grandpa was older (we celebrated his 90th birthday on December 25, 2003), but I always took it for granted that he’d be around forever. He was just filled with life-- he enjoyed taking his neighbors out to dinner, attending family reunions (his signature 'pot luck' dish was a bag of Oreos!), and singing bass for the church choir. It was a big inconvenience for him when he had to start walking around town with a cane. Nevertheless, when he got sick in the fall of 2004, life went quickly... He was gone by Christmas, dying just short of his 91st birthday.
How can you fully describe the pain of loss? (Really -- I'm still at a loss…) I think perhaps I felt as if a part of me had died too. I felt like my world was falling apart, and that, effectively, this was the end of my childhood. I had just finished up with the first semester exams of my freshman year, and it felt to me like time had stopped. All I could think about was how I would give anything just to tell him “I love you” one more time. I just shut down, and effectively “numbed off”, I kept everything inside and tried to maintain a strong exterior, when inside my heart was breaking.
I really didn’t even want to go to the funeral. I was completely broken and poured out, and I didn’t think I had the strength to give any more. Visiting hours were some of the most beautiful and painful moments I’ve ever experienced, as I got to laugh and pray ( and cry, there was surely no shortage of tears) with all the people who gathered to remember him. It was a celebration of a long a full life, lived out by a man who loved God with all he was, faithful up until the very last moments. My mother told me later (I remember we were driving together, and I was trying to focus on the road through my tears) that he wasn’t afraid. His faith was so strong, and he realized that even as his earthly body failed, his soul was strong and complete, and he was ready to go home.
It’s been years now, and my heart still aches for him sometimes. It’s funny, because sometimes the smallest things can awaken the deepest parts of my heart that I’ve convinced myself have been effectively hidden away. James Herriot, NPR, and long walks are just a few of the things that bring me close to Grandpa again. Most of all though, it hurts when I realize there was so much more I wanted to learn from him, as I really look to his life as one of my most powerful examples.
However, as I move beyond the hurt, I am left with so many beautiful memories. I am still amazed at the brilliance of the details that come back to me when I close my eyes-- these memories can still take my breath away. Grandpa gave me so many lasting things! He inspired me to obtain an engineering degree, instilled in me a love of math (except word problems.. y'all know how I feel about word problems…), and whenever I go for a run, I feel closer to him. He is a continual inspiration for me to strengthen my faith, and, perhaps most important to me: Grandpa is a prime example of someone leading out a faithful life in service.
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As I sit here tonight, I allow my mind to wander-- and inevitably, it comes down to identity. And I think about who I am. .. I know that in a majority of my posts my heart has been crying out (...and not at all subtly, so I'm sure you've gotten the message), "I'm waiting to 'find myself'... I'm here and I'm waiting. I don't know what I am meant to do, but I trust things will fall into place..." And, while I am still very much there -- I find that in writing this, an undeniable truth has emerged:
I know who I want to be. ... And, like my Grandpa, I want to live a big life.
I want to be a quiet but steadfast force for good in the world. I want to be able to go to sleep at night knowing I have given my all: every. single. day. I want to invest in the future through my children and grandchildren, and above all-- I want to touch people's lives by being an example of love in the world-- really respecting and valuing each person in their individuality. And this, friends, is what it means to live a 'big life'.
This I know. ...And tonight? Tonight it is enough. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, and I surely don't know what move to make next (I do know, however, without a doubt, I do need to move ... I need to be vague about this for now, but I'll fill you in as I'm able :) but I know what I ultimately want, and that's surely a good start.
So, in closing, I thank you, Grandpa, for so many things. I thank you for your patience, for your wisdom, and most certainly I thank you for your love. I am so thankful to have known you, as you blessed my life in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I love you.