Monday, March 10, 2008

A Goodbye for Some, a Welcome Home for Others

Sometimes when you are hanging out in someone's room, you start to read their books. I was working on some mixing, and my friend Ryan was sitting on the floor, looking through some of my stuff. He started reading The Times of My Life, which is my grandpa's little self-published autobiography. I thought it was funny that someone else would be so interested in someone else's grandfather, but I didn't really think too much of it. I continued working, he continued reading. After a few minutes of flipping through the book, Ryan said to me "Mike, your grandpa is a badass!" I'm not sure if "badass" was exactly the word, but it was something similar, possibly something worse, something more complexly bad-yet-actually good. He might have said "motherf***er," I don't remember. I do remember thinking that if my grandpa had been there, he might not have realized that Ryan was actually paying a pretty high compliment. It's not very often that people compliment each other's grandfathers, but that's the thing, The Times of My Life is actually a pretty good book.

It didn't come as a complete surprise that he said this, because I sort of knew it all along. Grandpa, the survivor of the depression, the athlete, the Rhodes Scholar, the war veteran, the distinguished professor, the poet, the author of the words to hymn #113 in the Mormon hymnal, the wise sage of our youth, the proud wearer of bolo ties, the gardener, the writer, the quoter of Brit Lit at the dinner table, the story teller, the father, the husband, the lover of roast beef, the grandfather to his grandchildren. He had had an exemplary life, and throughout every page of his book, you could tell that he felt joy and faith in the things that he did. I had enjoyed a few very touching experiences in which I was able to flip through the book with family and friends and tell people about his life, to take it all in, and to wonder if maybe folks were just built differently back then, if greatness was somehow just in their blood, if "walking to school uphill both ways" really did make for better people.

What was the most mind-blowing thing about it all was to see myself in this book, as a young baby. To think that I was part of this story was a really profound thing for me, because naturally, one wonders how their own story compares to the one they are reading. How does the context of my own life compare with what was going on at that time? What sorts of struggles were the same? What sorts of struggles were different? I felt heir to a legacy of integrity, of excellence, and of love. I understood what all the hype about geneology was for: Seeing the life of a loved one unfold on the pages before me gave me a grand sense of the brevity of my time here on this earth as well as the long-reaching effects that a person's life choices can make. It's like facing both life and death, one's strengths and weaknesses, joy and sorrow, all of the extremes of life, all very quickly.

"Here is a life of joy." I had for a long time pondered the difference between happiness and joy, and had thought about the depth of the scripture "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy." There I could see a life of struggles overcome, fears embraced, and sorrow mourned. Life, it seemed, was not always good, but was still full of joy. Not always happiness, but joy and the love of those whose lives were shared.

It is because of this that I did not feel regret when my mother called earlier this evening to tell me that my grandfather had passed away. When his soul left his body today, he was surrounded by love. He died in his bed, a place where he knew rest, in the house where he lived even after he lost his wife, Eleanor. My mother's mother. Today she greets him in the afterlife, their earthly separation now but a moment, their eyes both now open to the eternities.

Of all the sometimes seemingly hard-to-believe things about religion, one thing that I have never for a second doubted is that our souls live on after we die. I don't know why, but it seems fundamentally impossible that a soul could cease to exist as a soul. I have been told that I have a strong fundamental belief in the harmony God's works, and so maybe that's why it just seems so unwaveringly real. Within the past few weeks I have been thinking about how strange the resurrection is as a concept, because when people will come back, we will all be the same age, or the idea of age will not be part of our bodies.

As someone who has a deep sense of people's age, it's strange to imagine a time when my grandparents and parents and future children will all be hanging out together, but we'll be the same age. My dad will still be my dad, but he will look the same age as me. Maybe I'm missing the big picture, perhaps the whole concept of physical age is not really relevant to the resurrection. The idea of souls living together even after this life is really something amazing, though. That alone is its own little heaven.

Life, it is a hello to the world, and a short goodbye from our Heavenly Father. Death, it is a short goodbye to the world, and a welcome home from our Heavenly Father. This time on earth is precious, as we struggle to make sense of life's challenges and joys. We grow stronger, wiser, and gain in the capacity to love. We learn to love as we have been loved, to give as we have been given, and to grow as we have been planted.

Is American mourning doing it wrong? Are we missing the celebration? Is there too much emphasis on what could have been left to do? The word "funeral" has such a heavy tune to it. What about those people in Africa, the ones who have brightly colored coffins made in the shape of animals or boats or planes, made for carrying their souls into the next life. Why not more like a graduation ceremony, don't they call those commencements? Commencing the next phase, leaving the old you behind. Here's to the new you, grandpa. May colorful birds carry you to your next journey.

There's life in your words, which resound in the hearts of everyone who sings:

Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light.
As from above, it breaks through clouds of strife.
Lighting our way, it leads us back into his sight, where we may stay to share eternal life.


I'll be gone for a few days, to Provo, Utah, the place where I was born, for the funeral and to be with the family. Spring Break 08!


sarah k. said...

(lighting our way...)

Those are some awesome pictures. I think I might lift a few. The last one is how I know Grandpa, with that smile, and the monstrous eyebrows trimmed to a less intense length. He laughed a lot in the last few years.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, it's great how much you look alike. Hope it's a safe trip