Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unpacking: Letting Go

"11. You cannot change anyone. That is their call and their call alone. If you cannot accept them for who they are right now, accept that and let them go."

It feels like it goes against conventional wisdom. It flies in the face of what we're so often exhorted to do. Forgive anything of anyone. Support no matter what. Turn the other cheek. Never give up because what if...  what if it's your support that ends up being that which they need? What if it's your steadfastness that gives them the strength to become what they needed to become?  What if, what if, what if? What if you held on just one more time, buried the past just one more time, mended the pain just one more time, gave up your self-respect just one more time?

But, what if you didn't? What if, this time, you had the strength to let go? Not crush them, just let go. It isn't the conventional wisdom of holding on at all costs. But, I've come to understand that there is a wisdom to letting go, too. Sometimes it's more humane than clinging to something that will never heal.

Sometimes it's that you've inflicted far too much pain on each other to ever find your way back to healing and love. Sometimes truth comes out, and you just don't like who lives underneath the mask. Sometimes you both change, neither one in bad ways, but in ways that are simply different... and you lose the commonality that held you together before.

Letting go feels like quitting, like losing. We don't like to quit and we don't like to lose. Letting go feels weak, but I think we're wrong in that. I don't like to let go, but on the occasions, and there have been a few, where I have made the choice to do so, it has taken far more strength and courage than hanging on would ever have demanded.

But still, we have the compulsion to fight, to stay. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. But sometimes, it does more harm than it does good.

I have a hard time judging which is right when I'm in the midst of it. I get too close to the problem at hand, and my ability to see with wise eyes diminishes. It's here that I find wise counsel to be invaluable. People who are far enough back to see the big picture, but who love me enough to be honest-- even if it's honesty I don't really want to hear. I've come to appreciate and trust the wisdom of those in my life, learned to listen to it.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." Sometimes you just take different roads. You can push and pull and scream to get them to go down yours with you. But every once in a while, you find it's wiser for you both to just say Goodbye and Good Luck, and to explore the road on your own.

Sometimes life and love and friendship don't work out. Sometimes you let go so you can be whole without regret. And there is wisdom in that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And That Was My Grandpa

What I would have said if I'd had time to think... and if it had been the right time and place... (which it probably wasn't)


My name is Joanne, and I'm Jim's eldest grand-daughter... by birth. I feel a little out of place here. I didn't know most of you before two weeks ago, though I knew OF some of you. And yet, we're all here, trying to celebrate the life of a man.  But, listening to people talk, I'm not sure I knew the same man you did.

I almost feel as if I'm hearing about a stranger, this paragon of virtue you praise for his prompt church attendance, self-control, and patience.  Indeed, it makes me laugh just a little because I know the past, both from experience and from story.  Maybe it's just that it's a funeral, and everything we remember is supposed to be all sunshine and rainbows, but that wasn't my grandpa.  Or at least it wasn't all of my grandpa, and it seems to be almost a disservice to not remember him as he was.

Perhaps he spent an exorbitant amount of energy in the time you knew him ranting about the "words on the wall" and how the Chinese and the Mexicans are taking over the country.  I'm not really sure where that all came from.

He didn't go to church when I knew him... and that was my grandpa.  He was raised in a sort of funky church, and by the stories I've heard, was a bit of the family's black sheep.  And I don't remember him ever attending before he got old and ranty about hymnals.

He took out his teeth to make me giggle whenever I asked... and he'd sit for hours and listen to the same terrible knock-knock jokes for hours and laugh at them every time.  And that was my grandpa.

Once, he got mad at something at the hardware store, threw handfuls of nails on the ground in a pique of temper, and stormed out of the store, leaving the poor bewildered employee to clean it all up.  That, too, was my grandpa.

There is a poem from the '60s that starts out:

Listen, my children, and you will hear
of my Daddy's great quest to go shoot a deer.
He left on a cold day in October--
He drove off in the truck, and I think he was sober.

That was my grandpa.

He was the man that taught me to drive a riding lawnmower when I was 8, taught me to watch for bird nests on the side of the road when I was 6, and saved me from the bear rug under the bed when I was 5 (and 6, and 7, and 8, and...).  And that was my grandpa.

He was the man that hooked me on to Zane Grey, though I always wondered what it was Mr Grey hated so much about the pesky Mormons that they were always the bad guys.   And that was my grandpa.

He was warm and funny and kind and good-hearted.  But, he was also impatient and quick to lose his temper.  and that was ALSO my grandpa.

He was married pre-1988 to my grandmother, and she should have been mentioned today.  Shame on you for leaving out such a large part of his life.  My mother, their only daughter, is sitting right here in the front row. They are both a part of the history that made him who he was, and it was a history that deserved to be told.

Today, maybe I'm the only one here that feels weird celebrating only a small part of who he was.  Maybe it doesn't bother anyone else that we're only praising the sunshine and the rainbows.  But my grandpa was more than just the sunshine and the rainbows.  He was whole and he was real, and I loved him for listening to my knock knock jokes just as much as I loved him for leaving my mom's aunt and uncle stranded in the middle of Arizona because he was ticked off.

It's these things that we pass on to the people we live behind.  The good and the bad of who we are... and both figure into the stories and the memories we leave in the wake of our lives. Both make us who we are, and both are important to remember because they make us REAL, and not just caricatures of virtue, prettied-up shells of our real selves.

And if I'm the only one who feels this way, so be it.  I'm not ashamed of that... I will go home with my memories and all the stories I've heard of his whole life.  I will tuck them into my heart, and remember the man that was.  All of him.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What I Won't Forget

There are things I won't forget about this weekend with my mom, my grandpa, and my step-grandma.

I wasn't expected to be there. My mom had said that she didn't need anyone to be with her, but I knew she was wrong and that she would.  But if I said I was coming, she'd just hem and haw and feel guilty, so I just decided that I would go without telling her.  And if I was already there when she found out, she couldn't very well send me home 2 1/2 hours since I'd come all that way, right?  So, when I walked in the door, she was a little surprised...

After giving her a hug, I walked over to Grandpa to give him a "hello" hug as well.  The plan was to hug him, tell him hello, and then find a seat amongst the veritable party of people that were in the room.  Seriously, there were a lot and it was a little insane.  After hugging him, I squeezed his hand...  he squeezed back and told me that he was really glad that I had come.  And then he wouldn't let go.  I just found my seat on the floor right next to his chair, my hand in his, and we sat there like that for a good hour.  I found myself there a few more times over the next couple days... just sitting on the floor by the arm of his chair, holding his hand, sometimes leaning my head against his arm, as he dozed in and out.

I won't forget that.

Mostly because it's destined to become a little joke between my mom and I, I certainly won't forget the Mexicans. Oh, those poor Mexicans.  My grandparents are good people... but they're almost 90, and set in their ways and opinions.  Not really any use arguing with them...  not much point to it.  After this long, they're aren't apt to be swayed, so my general code of conduct for visits is to employ "smile and nod." This works awesome for short 4-hour visits.  Apparently, I am not quite as good at keeping it up for three-day visits.  It was sorely tested with the Mexicans.

For some reason, just about every national and local problem can be laid at the feet of the Mexicans.  Health care, economy, education.  You name it, those darned Mexicans are responsible for it.  The first few times, my eyes probably widened... but smile and nod, Jo.  Smile and nod.  I managed to continue it for the "Do YOU have any Mexicans in your neighborhood?"  I came THIS close to answering "No, we live in Redmond.  It's very well-to-do, and there's a city ordinance that bans them from taking up residence" but managed to conquer the urge.

It was the second day when we were apparently complaining about the food in the grocery store that I just about lost it.  It was a perfectly normal conversation...  apparently, all the food is too spicy.  "They are FORCING us to buy spicy food.  We aren't ALL Mexicans, you know."  I couldn't help it!  I laughed out loud.  I wasn't expecting it in this particular conversation, and I just couldn't help it.  From that point on, every time anything came up, my brain would go "I bet he's Mexican."  That's terrible, I know.  lol  This might be a "you had to be there" thing.

But, I won't forget that, either.

When I was very young, my grandma died when Grandpa was out-of-town as a trucker.  I don't remember very much of that.  But I do remember being in my room when he came over to our house the night he returned.  I think my mom had to tell him what had happened.  And he cried.  I don't mean cried.  I mean, racking sobs.  It was, I think, the first time I'd ever heard a grown man cry like that.  And in the ensuing 25 years, I don't think I've heard a lot of others.  Men are usually so strong and stoic and...  well, just strong, I guess.  And my grandpa wasn't any different...  but it was the first time that I was ever aware that men could be like that. That they could cry and be that emotionally affected by things.

So, perhaps, it is fitting that after my mom had said Goodbye to him, I went in to sit on his bed to say my own.  There was no sobbing today.  But there were tears.  I don't think he wanted me to see him cry, but I think it was not-wrong to hug him, to lay my cheek on his chest with my arms around his neck, and tell him it was okay to cry. It's hard to know how to pack all the I'm sorrys, and all the memories, and all the Iloveyous into one tear-filled conversation.  But, when I left, I think he knew I loved him

And I certainly won't forget that either.