My daughter shared that on her family’s recent trip to the Grand Canyon her 11-year-old son became concerned with her welfare on one of the trail hikes and took her hand. She’s not sure if he thought that the steep incline might be too challenging for her or if he was worried because she was battling allergies or perhaps, he thought she might be frightened of the heights. Regardless, he held her hand. This is something that this 11-year-old boy doesn’t normally do in public anymore. He’s too big now and too vulnerable to 5th grade peer pressure to be seen holding hands with Mom.
A few weeks ago at church a woman who I know needed some assistance. I know her in the “from church” sense of the word. I know her name and that she was recently widowed and that she had been a teacher years ago, but I don’t really know her well. Still, we’ve always spoken to one another in the polite ‘have a nice day’ kind of way that casual acquaintances do. Lately she has acquired a walker and on this particular Sunday, I helped her retrieve it after Mass. That simple gesture was repaid by a smile and a grasp of my hand and squeeze from her old bony hand. It was a sweet, warm encounter. I wondered as she scooted off how much she must miss the touch of her beloved late husband’s hand.
I lost my Mom nearly three years ago and there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of her. Usually, they are happy thoughts and fond memories of the times we shared. Sometimes, I feel the ache of her absence profoundly; I feel her loss in my heart; in my soul; and in my physical being. On those days I am comforted by the memory of one of our last times together. A week before she died, I stopped by to visit, and Mom was on the sofa in the family room. Her pulmonary fibrosis had gotten the best of her that day and she was listless and breathless. We sat side by side on that sofa and she put her hand in mine and we sat there in silence. No words were needed. I remember feeling like a young boy once again being comforted and reassured that Mom was going to be okay. There I was trying to take of her and instead she was taking care of me.
Holding on and letting go.
My grandson held on to my daughter on that canyon hike as she was struggling to let go of the baby boy who is no longer there. He let go of his fear of being seen holding hands with Mom. She is comforted in knowing now he will always take care of her while is she busy also taking care of him.
My friend from church is holding on to her walker and letting go of some of her independence. She is forging ahead in a life without her spouse. And she is blessing those around her who offer her small kindnesses.
My Mom gave me a such a beautiful gift on that day on the sofa together. She gave me hope and peace. As we were holding on to one another she let me know without words that it was time to let go.
And here she, is still taking care of me…
My son Blake tells me that he’s pretty sure we are all one consciousness. The universe experiencing itself; a pulse experienced through different hardware. He believes that unconditional love is the answer but what is the question?
He and I sometimes have these existential kinds of conversations. What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Or is it all some elaborate myth? Were we “created” or do we exist because of some cosmic happenstance? Do we need God? Does God need us?
It makes me think. And wonder. And pray. And sometimes I wonder as I pray.
People behave badly. We murder. We rape. We abuse children. We discriminate based on religion, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We arm ourselves. We build walls. We exploit the most vulnerable amongst us.
Genesis tells us: God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. But if ‘God is love’ why is there so much un-Godlike behavior happening in our world. If God made us in his (her) image why aren’t we loving one another? Why aren’t we lifting one another up? Why aren’t we caring for one another?
And then I crawl out of my hole and look around. I see every little loving thing that my wife does each day for me and countless others. I see my friends who have often lifted me up during times of heartache and self-doubt. I realize that I am cared for not just by friends and family but by strangers who work for peace and justice in our world.
My grandson Noah asked me recently, “Pawpaw, do you know what zeal is?” Before I could offer a definition he exclaimed, “It’s how God loves us and how God wants us to love others!” And I realize then that we do! We do love one another. We do lift each other. We do care for one another. Not always. Not all of us. Not often enough. But we do!
And perhaps that’s the question – why not always; why not all of us; why not often enough? Unconditional love is the answer. God was once again revealed to me through my seven year-old grandson. God is in the love we share; in the countless times that Noah has lifted me up from my gloominess and my self-pity; all the times that we have cared for one another. Noah full of zeal! Blake too has loved me and lifted me with his kindness; his sincerity; his goodwill. These two (uncle and nephew) come from very different places – physically and spiritually but God is there – loving; lifting; caring.
Evil exists. Bad things happen. But that’s not the end of the story. God has given us power over evil. We just need to share the gift of Love. Perhaps then others will ask the question – why not always? why not all of us? why not often enough?
Our son has made a career in the Air Force. Tyson loves the Air Force and he is exactly the kind of man who you would want safe guarding your freedom. He’s loyal. He’s brave. He’s dedicated. He’s a natural leader. He’s true-blue (actually he’s true-red, white and blue).
He recently left for a one-year, unaccompanied, remote assignment. Which means that he’s far away from home and his wife and daughters are left behind. Of course, there are worse jobs and there are tougher and more dangerous assignments but this is our son and it’s personal. And I’m feeling a little melancholy.
I know that he’ll be okay. I know that our daughter-in-law is strong enough and smart enough to make it on her own. She’ll keep the home fires burning. His two younger daughters are too young realize what a year without Daddy really means. I also know that Tyson will make friends and do his job well. Email and texting and video chats will help reduce the distance and hopefully will make the year pass quickly. And he will not be in harm’s way, as this is not a combat zone. He’ll receive cards and letters and care packages. So there is much for which to be thankful.
Still it’s hard not to worry. As I try to reassure him, I feel that my words sound hollow and contrite. I wish that I could be more comforting; more convincing; more articulate; more intelligent; more everything. But I realize that I’m also trying to reassure myself as I attempt to reassure him and I’m failing on both counts.
Today our grandson Noah (Ty’s five year-old nephew) said that God hears all our prayers, even the ones in our hearts. It’s amazing how kids evangelize. They bring the Gospel to us in the most simple yet profound ways.
GOD HEARS THE PRAYERS IN OUR HEARTS. Thank you Noah for helping me realize that I don’t need the words. I only need the love. And God hears it. And so will Tyson.