A Happy Birthday to a Most Wonderful Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 84th birthday. I wrote about him last year, right around this time, and today as I sit here thinking of him, it is his intrinsic goodness and gentleness of spirit that shine the brightest among my memories of him. Through his passion for living, boundless generosity, sincere joyfulness, intense loyalty, and never-ending capacity to love he became the shining example of what it meant to be a good human being, and more than anyone, he taught me the immense power of kindness and joy.

Happy birthday, granddad!

Happy birthday, granddad!

Recently, I had the incredible pleasure of reconnecting with my ex step-mother; a woman who, for nearly a dozen years, played a very big role in my life. Soon after, she told me that her mother had recently passed away, and although I had not seen either one of them in nearly twenty years, my heart was filled with incredible sadness at the news. I realized as the tears welled up in my eyes, that she had been one of those rare people who left an indelible mark on who I am, despite the relatively brief time that I knew her. She was, perhaps, one of the most tender-hearted people who I have had the joy of knowing, always happily willing to go out of her way to make everyone feel welcomed and at home. She had an easy and unassuming way of making me feel, even as an awkward and difficult teenager, well, important. I realized, as I mourned her passing, that she had taught me, like my grandfather, the quiet strength that can lie in gentleness and goodness.

I also recall a Saturday night several moths ago when I sat across from Greg at dinner and listened intently as he spoke about his mother-in-law, grandmother, and grandfather. The change in his voice when he spoke of them, the look in his eyes when he told me of his memories, spoke to the powerful impact and influence that they had on his life. He was lucky to have them, and the common thread between all of them, was, again, their innate kindness and goodness, and the impact that they have had on him is undeniable, as he is undoubtedly one of the kindest, warmest, and most loving men that I have ever known, both as a father to his children and as a partner to me.

We live in a culture that seems to embrace the loud and aggressive kind of strength, the kind that shouts, pushes, and beats its chest. Whether it’s on television, film, or music, those that win are those that push and manipulate their way ahead… or those with the biggest guns. In either case, kindness and joyfulness are seldom depicted as a true virtues, and never as real sources of strength. But the truth is, as I look back on my forty years, it’s not the loud and aggressive that have left a positive mark on my life, but the gentle and kind. It’s them, people like my grandfather, my ex-step-grandmother, and others like them that have given me the keys to living a fundamentally rich and rewarding life.

My daughter is now four years old. In such a blurred rush of time, she’s gone from an infant in my arms to an independent child with a big personality of her own. Last night, as I tucked her in for the night, I wondered who would she encounter in her life, that later she would recall as having helped shape and guide her. My grandfather is no longer here to be that stellar example for her, but I can only hope, despite my many faults, that I can through my actions, show her the lessons that he and others like him taught me.

Happy birthday, Granddad, and thank you for teaching me to find me strength in kindness and compassion, and in gentleness and generosity. I love and miss you terribly.


A Wish for a Truly Wonderful New Year

This morning, I read this quote on Charlie’s always insightful blog,

Tomorrow never comes, because when it does it’s always today.

What a perfect sentiment for this time of year, when most of us are reflecting on the past year and looking ahead towards the next. In a moment where we’re living with one foot in the past and the other in the future, its hard to forget that there is still a “today” to contend with.

Living in the present is certainly relevant to what I’ve been writing about this week, and this  unintended theme has really forced me to take a look at how I view the world. I suppose that I have always, to some extent, really reveled in the beauty of the people and the world around me. It’s why I spent so many years in college studying one thing after another, always awestruck by how the more I learned, the more questions I had. I think if finances would have allowed, I would still be in school. It’s the reason I teach. Although, as with most jobs, the drawbacks are many, the one big plus is the fact that I can try to pass on that love of learning… no, more than that, the love of living, of which learning is an integral part. It’s this very fact that allows me to be, despite many, many setbacks and challenges, to be a fundamentally happy person.

And this is the very thing that I want to make sure my daughter grows up with. I had my grandfather to set that example for me. (This post is about to go in an unintended direction, but what the hell, I’ll go with it)…

My grandfather was, perhaps, one of the most remarkable people who I have ever met.  He was more than a grandfather, more than a father… the role he played in my life had no precedent, and thus, no title.  He was my moral compass, my teacher, my guide, my sanctuary… the only person on the planet who knew me better than I knew myself.  He loved me unconditionally, every single day of my life.  He never let me feel anything but loved, no matter what mistakes I made (and boy did I make many!).   I am who I am today in a very large part because of him.

His love for my grandmother was all-consuming.  He loved her more than life itself.  He never spoke down to her, always told her and showed her how much he loved her.  He told her how beautiful he was until the day he died.  His willingness to sacrifice for her, and for everyone he loved, made each relationship he touched near perfect.  Granted, he set the bar so high that I’m afraid I’ll never find that perfection with someone else,  but it does give me hope.

His faith was boundless, yet he never proselytized.  He never belittled any beliefs that diverged from his own, yet never wavered from his faith.  Again, in this aspect, he led by example.  His actions spoke louder than any words ever could have, even if shouted from the highest mountain tops. He was always kind, always tolerant, never judgmental, loving without exception and abundant in his generosity.

He elevated and inspired everyone.  He sacrificed, yet always expressed joy in everything he did.  He loved completely, and lived life with a happiness that never diminished.  He epitomized that life lived with a sense of magic, awe, and wonder.

He passed away last year, and next week would have been his 83rd birthday. Needless to say, I miss him daily. But even in his absence he continues to be all of those things to me, and now, I’m trying with all that I am to be the same for my daughter, in whatever way that I am capable of.

As I think of him, of myself, and of my daughter, I am pushed to reflect on the past year; on what I’ve done, said, thought, experienced, and felt. I suppose that as the year draws to a close, it’s as good a time as any to stop and think about the many lessons we’ve learned, and how we can continue forward into the next year with strength and happiness.

As I wrote last Friday, I am in the process of trying to heal from an incredibly painful split from someone who I still love immensely. When things like this happen, it’s all too easy to shut off and shut down, or to really try to forget and close the chapter. I suppose its self-preservation. Despite that, I’ve decided not to give in to it.  Living with an openness to all the beauty that the world can offer means having an open heart, and it was exactly that, despite the initial challenges we faced in our relationship, that made it possible to love him as deeply and honestly as I did. Lessening the pain is never a good enough reason to shut myself off to the potential of having that again. It is, if nothing else, what my grandfather would have done.

In the mean time, I am happy knowing that I am starting the year without anger or bitterness, and with the same openness that I stepped into 2011 with. I will continue to live with the sense of magic and awe that I have been writing about this past week, and I will absolutely continue to make sure that my daughter grows up with the same sense of infinite possibility.

I wish all of you out there a very happy and truly wonderful start to an as of yet unwritten part of our lives. 2012 will be as good as we make it. Let’s all resolve to continue to keep reading books that make us think, listing to music that touches our souls, and looking upon the world with eyes that can see the ordinary as extraordinary.

Happy 2012!

And did anyone else notice that last night’s moon looked like a smile?