My grandmother passed away this year, the day after my 57th birthday. It is a rare gift to have a grandparent in your life for so long. I am going to do some posts this month trying to put some of my lessons from that gift into words, not my best thing.
For those who aren’t familiar with religious tradition, or are hostile to it, please be aware that I am not proselytizing. I am a “cradle Episcopalian” from Grandma’s side of the family and the church and its traditions are something we shared. They also give us language to talk about things like right and wrong. Yes, we probably need to find new ways to discuss these things. But this is the language that comes to me; I have no desire to change you.
A month to remember and appreciate
November seems like a good month to reflect on Grandma because it starts with All Saints’ Day and ends with Thanksgiving and the start of Advent (the new year in the church calendar). Even though I am fallen away from the church, at least for now, there is much in the tradition, my flavor is Episcopal, that speaks deeply to me. November is also the month of Armistice Day. The church, veterans, and family were all important to Grandma.
Real saints aren’t perfect
When one has a long term relationship it will always have ups and downs. The person you know well can never really seem like a saint because you know the good and the bad. You have the frustrations of daily life to work through. It helps to see these as quirks but sometimes…
One of my favorite holidays in the Episcopal Church, more than Christmas and Easter is All Saints Day. A day when we recognize that it isn’t just the big tickets do-gooders like Mother Teresa who are saints. Even if you aren’t a Christian, or religious at all you can see that there are people working to make the world a better and more loving place. Some well known like Greta Thunberg, and others who aren’t in the headlines, like the lawyers of the ACLU who are working to improve conditions for the children inhumanely treated at our borders.
The hymn I Sing a song of the Saints of God expresses this.
I sing a song of the saints of God
patient and brave and true
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
…and one was a doctor and one was a queen
and one was a shepherdess on the green
They were all of them saints of God
and I mean, God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus sake,
the whole of their good lives long.
…and one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
there are hundreds of thousands still,
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,Lesbia Scott (b. 1898)
in church or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.
The world isn’t perfect
What is “perfect anyway? The things that seem ideal to one person cause hardship to others. The time of my grandmother’s life span: 1923 to 2019. Saw enormous changes. Technological and social. She adjusted pretty well to the technological ones, emailing me a birthday greeting less than 24 hours before her death (I was in China).
Social changes weren’t as easy for her. In many ways my grandmother was a saint; she worked hard to make the world more like she thought it should be. That caused many to find her difficult, especially as those old-fashioned ideas became more and more challenged by the modern world. The thing I would say is that her core value was love. Even when people weren’t being the way she wanted them to be it was never in doubt that you were loved. Our family has its share of divorces, children born out of wedlock (before and after it was the norm), homosexuals, bi-polar depression, alcoholism and just plain orneriness. These were struggles for her in many ways, but love always came through first.
She could be quite ornery herself at times, but one doesn’t get to 96 without a bit of that. The thing about her orneriness is that it was positive. She liked the sunshine, both the meteorological and attitudinal. She had plenty of opportunities to fall into depression or angry frustration for very real reasons, but put her emotional energy into staying happy, and caring for others who were being hit by the same negative forces.
Lesson learned: seek out the sunshine
That is the most important thing I learned from her. I am not naive, and neither was she. The weather, both meteorological and emotional, will not always be sunny. But you can take a deep breath (some times you need to take more than one!) and figure out the sunniest side of the street, or the path to a place where it is warmer, or just find a book about a warm place.
Note: I am working on this series about Grandma this month for Nanopoblano. I don’t know where it will lead.