My Grampy: Reality of Distance

My Grampy: Reality of Distance

Some pieces of writing are nothing more than mirage; shimmering blurs on the horizon of ones vision. Each morning and sometimes evening I try and write about my Grandpa from my mother’s side. In my mind I have made him out to be a mad devil. You might be shocked if you met him. His back has a humbled roundness, his face and head are covered in a polished white fur, he stutters, and his memory is deserting him. Even I am alarmed at the hot coals I desire to heap on his frail head.

The elusive piece I am trying to write is not one of past hate but of present redemption. Of course I can only assume at this point it is an imagined Oasis of healing and rest. All I have to work with is the less than nourishing sand that keeps nudging its way into my shoes.

Even if I did try and work with what I have it would slip through my fingers like it does in an hour glass and return to the dust which only God can number, grain by gritty grain. Normally I’d think it better not to write, to wait for the story to unravel, to hope with patient suffering so that forgiveness can have the final say.

Only, there will be no more story soon. My Grandpa, or Grampy, as we children called him, is dying quickly from Cancer. Time is against hi; as it is against my mother, my Aunt, his ex-wife, my little sister, and me. The only solution, I have considered, is to write and revise, write and revise, revise, revise and revise. Then maybe forgiveness can establish itself as something permanent. Maybe the keyboard or the pen and napkin yielded to me by the bartender can stand in as a new form of liturgy, forcing me to boldly say, “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”

Maybe though, it is time to let the hands do the work and stop the fingers from simply talking. My inclination is to act out forgiveness like a play, to act it out until it becomes alive. But my stage is here, behind letters and syllables, where curtain is a verb that means close or conceal and characters can be symbols, not real people who have done actual cruel things. I think it may be time to re-learn the words of my Grandfather Bob, who died five years ago. When the heart is not in it, he used to tell me, flesh it out. I’m beginning to see the distinction now. To act would be to memorize lines of the Our Father, or to believe that I can be like God and speak something into existence through communion with The Book of Common Prayer.

Flesh it out, however, already bears a meaning known to most of the Christian tradition. We call it incarnation. I wish the Lord’s Prayer could somehow procceed action. I have assumed all my life about the divine importance of words in certain significant biblical moments such as the incarnation and creation, “God said, ‘let there be…” and, “in the beginning was the word…” Even if I were to take these statements literally, I would still have to submit that God works in ways that humans do not. We don’t simply speak life; we continue it by participating with it.

I realize now that this is how the Lord’s Prayer truly begins: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

It’s unlikely that My grandpa, even though on his death bed, will approach me or anyone else in my family. I have everything against him, on my own behalf, on behalf of the people I love, and other people I have never met but know he has hurt. Whatever gift I have to offer the Lord I must put down for now, even if it means never writing the redemption piece of the withering old man who bloomed into eternity. Instead I must go and cultivate forgiveness through work and not writing. I must set out where forgiveness begins, and meet Grampy at his end. I still hope, however, when the last petal falls I meet the man instead of the beast I have always imagined him to be.


I welcome your thoughts!


One response to “My Grampy: Reality of Distance

  • Jane

    Paul, This hit particularly close to home. My father died almost eight years ago. My father suffered from PTSD because of his time in VietNam. He was violent and abusive. I struggled for years with my relationship with him. Forgiveness was quite elusive.

    The week that he was in the hospital dying, I spent a lot of time working through how to approach this moment. It took me five days to get up the courage to visit him.

    I walked into his room and saw the man who had terrified me for so long. He weighed 87 pounds. What I saw was a broken person. It’s as if all else had fallen away. I understood in that moment why he had been so cruel, and I was able to forgive.

    Honestly, what I wanted was to hear him say he was sorry for the years of abuse. I had prepared myself to never hear it. That day, in the hospital, I still wanted to hear them – giving grace was not easy. I had released myself but was not ready to release him. As I was leaving, he called my name. I turned around.

    What I saw was this frail man holding out his hand. In that moment, I know I heard God (not sure how many other times I’ve actually heard God before or since.) My choice was to take what he could give me or walk away and not accept his asking for forgiveness. I went back and took his hand. It wasn’t what I’d wanted. Somehow it was enough.

    I share that to say, look for the space for grace. Release yourself.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

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