Grams’ lesson in persistent love

Grams

My grandmother’s name is Ann, but we’ve always called her Grams – just Grams. Her birthday is today, so it’s made me think about her again. And smile again.

Grams has made me smile a lot over the years, often by finding humor in something when I couldn’t see it by myself. She’s taught me a lot over the years, too, like how to appreciate a really good cup of coffee (that’s one of her mugs above) and how to make pierogi from scratch so that that don’t fall apart when you cook them.

She was independent and feisty and lively, even when the arthritis in her legs slowed her. And she understood the importance of persistence, especially when it came to love.

Her husband died of cancer when her three daughters were young. Friends and relatives told her to find another husband to support her – that’s what women did back then. Uh-uh, not Grams. She found a babysitter and went to work at a business where women weren’t exactly welcomed. She didn’t care what they thought – she had a family to support!

She did it her way, raising her daughters and building a family that grew with each wedding and each birth.

Persistent about life and love

When I was young, my family had some tough years. I remember many times when Grams would recognize my worry, pull me tight and reassure me: “Don’t worry, Joey. It’s going to be all right.” She meant it, and so I believed her. She turned out to be right.

She liked to say that life is too short, so don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t waste it. Keep at it. Don’t let anyone mistreat you. Be generous. Help others. And when you care about someone, make sure they know it.

Be persistent about life and love.

And boy, she was persistent, all right. When I was in college and would visit home for a weekend, Grams always called to see how I was doing. She’d invite me over for a cup of coffee. Sadly, I was a busy young person and often turned her down because of other plans with friends. She said that was OK. She never sounded disappointed. She just seemed glad that we had talked.

How cool is that?

Grams was persistent, but not insistent. She taught me that important distinction. Love never insists, it just offers.

Thankfully, I got many more chances to spend time with Grams. We’d get together for holidays or just to hobnob about old times. We’d go to her apartment and make batches of pierogi for Christmas.

No matter what you were doing together, she made you know that she was happy to see you. Without even trying, she reminded you that you were loved.

She had her peculiarities, of course, and that was part of the charm of being Grams. Her apartment was filled with tacky knickknacks from various places she’d visited. She wore wigs over her thinning hair and would keep them arranged on Styrofoam heads. She kept a votive candle burning on her bedroom dresser in front of a small likeness of Jesus. The candle rested on a tray with an image from John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

I miss those things.

Love offers but never insists

Grams died in her apartment from a heart attack years ago. As I was driving home from her funeral, I thought about how incredibly blessed I’ve been to have her in my life. And in the years since, there have been lots of little reminders that she’s still there.

Grams occasionally shows up in dreams – mine and other family members’ — with some guidance. For instance, my sister was taking a nap one afternoon because she’d been up all night with sick kids, and Grams showed up in the dream and told her to go pay attention to our mom. My sister knew not to discount a dream with Grams, so she called my brother and they got to my mom’s apartment just as she was having a stroke. It saved her life.

Pretty freaky, huh?

I’ve share that story with many people, and they’re shared their own stories about dearly departed friends and family showing up in dreams and in other ways, reminding us that they’re still dear but not so departed. We don’t understand how it all works, exactly, but we know there’s something there, something beyond our comprehension.

And none of it is really surprising. After all, persistent love would never let a little thing like death get in the way.

The great resistance

stardust3

We all resist things, which isn’t necessarily bad. We resist things that are harmful to us. We also resist things that are good for us as well. We resist things that grate on us and things that challenge us.

Our list of “Things To Be Resisted” varies by the person and is subject to change over time. But there is one thing that I think we all resist pretty much all the time.

We resist love, every single one of us. And that’s no news flash. Let’s be honest: Love scares the hell out of us.

Love – the real thing – turns us inside-out and upside-down. It scratches parts of us we’d rather leave untouched. It nudges us to change and grow, and that’s not easy.

Love challenges our fears and insecurities and self-doubts. It scales the walls of our ideologies and our theologies and our philosophies, trying to pull us out of those safe little boxes we’ve built.

Above all, love challenges us to be who we are meant to be.

Yikes!

All of us experience love’s powerfully transforming touch at various times. We have indelible moments that stir something inside of us in a new way.

Love touches and scares us

For example, the first time you held your newborn child and were overwhelmed by that sense of limitless love. Or the moment when you finally fessed up about something horrible you’d done and the person totally forgave you without even a moment’s judgment.

Moments like those make us feel deeply alive and loved. And they scare us by tearing openings into our tough outer skin, the one that’s scarred from a lifetime of hurt and embarrassment and shame.

Love leaves cracks that allow all kinds of new stuff to enter. Love makes us open and vulnerable, and that’s terrifying.

It’s no wonder we most often take the “safe” approach. We build mini-fortresses around our hearts. We erect religious and social and emotional walls. We hide inside superficial relationships. We insist that we don’t really need any more love than what we already have – we’re doing just fine inside our little space, thank you.

Best to avoid it

We understand that love is like that wooden horse in some ways. If we let it inside, it’ll unleash a force that will be out of our control and change everything. We can’t have that.

So, we try out best to avoid it.

As part of the process, we choose independence as our guiding virtue. Avoidance becomes a lifestyle. We judge others and decide they don’t deserve our love. We deem compassion and forgiveness as signs of weakness.

It’s especially sad that much of our “religion” gets twisted into resisting Divine love instead of embracing it. We concoct elaborate reward-and-punishment systems built on the idea that people exactly like me are acceptable and everyone else should be rejected.

Or we decide that we must make arm’s-length deals with an uncompassionate creator who is incapable of love and forgiveness. Instead, love and forgiveness are turned into bargaining chips in a cosmic business deal – you do this, I give you that. And that’s the deal. No substitutions.

Of course, love and forgiveness never come with fine print or strings attached. We can never earn them through our effort, or lose them because of our shortcomings.

Love persists

Love isn’t a commodity. Forgiveness isn’t a purchase. Both are freely and unconditionally given to all. Everyone is deserving.

I wonder if our reward-and-punishment systems are so historically popular because the idea that we’re all loved scares the hell out of us. It totally upsets how we think about ourselves and how we treat others.

But here’s the good part: No matter how many ways we try to pull away from Love, it never pulls away from us. Love never gives up on us.

Love persists.

Our actions have no effect whatsoever upon Love, whether it’s our attempts to tame it through reward-and-punishment systems, or our attempts to subvert it through power and wealth and domination, or simply our innate human reluctance to let it get deeply inside of us and transform us.

Nothing we do changes Love in any way.

Even when we try to crush it and kill it and bury it out of our fear, Love always rises again, as strong and as beautiful as ever, determined to go on transforming us and our world.  Like it or not.

The truly good news is that our resistance is ultimately futile. And thank God for that.

A grandmother’s persistent love

Grams

My grandmother’s name is Ann, but we’ve always called her Grams – just Grams. Her birthday is this month, so it’s made me think about her again. And smile again.

Grams has made me smile a lot over the years, often by finding humor in something when I couldn’t see it by myself. She’s taught me a lot over the years, too, like how to appreciate a really good cup of coffee and how to make pierogis from scratch so that that don’t fall apart when you cook them.

She was independent and feisty and lively, even when the arthritis in her legs slowed her. And she understood the importance of persistence, especially when it came to love.

Her husband died of cancer when her three daughters were young. Friends and relatives told her to find another husband to support her – that’s what women did back then. Uh-uh, not Grams. She found a babysitter and went to work for a company where women weren’t exactly welcomed. She didn’t care what they thought – she had a family to support!

She did it her way, raising her daughters and building a family that grew with each wedding and each birth.

When I was young, my family had some tough years. I remember many times when Grams would recognize my worry, pull me tight and reassure me: “Don’t worry, Joey. It’s going to be all right.” She meant it, and so I believed her. She turned out to be right.

She liked to say that life is too short, so don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t waste it. Keep at it. Don’t let anyone push you around. Be generous. Help others. And when you care about someone, make sure they know it.

Be persistent about life and love.

And boy, she was persistent, all right. When I was in college and would visit home for a weekend, Grams always called to see how I was doing. She’d invite me over for a cup of coffee. Sadly, I was a busy young person and often turned her down because of other plans. She said that was OK. She never sounded disappointed. She just seemed glad that we had talked.

How cool is that?

Grams was persistent, but not insistent. She taught me that important distinction. Love never insists, it just offers.

Thankfully, I got many more chances to spend time with Grams. We’d get together for holidays or just to hobnob about old times. We’d go to her apartment and make batches of potato and cabbage pierogis for Christmas.

No matter what you were doing together, she made you know that she was happy to see you. Without even trying, she reminded you that you were loved.

She had her peculiarities, of course, and that was part of the charm of being Grams. Her apartment was filled with tacky knickknacks from various places she’d visited. She wore wigs over her thinning hair and would keep them arranged on Styrofoam heads. She kept a votive candle burning on her bedroom dresser in front of a small likeness of Jesus. The candle rested on a tray with an image from John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

I miss those things.

Grams died in her apartment from an apparent heart attack years ago. As I was driving home from her funeral, I thought about how blessed I’ve been to have her in my life. And in the years since, there have been lots of little reminders that she’s still there in some ways.

Grams occasionally shows up in dreams – mine and other family members’ — with some guidance. My sister was taking a nap one afternoon because she’d been up all night with sick kids, and Grams showed up in the dream and told her to go pay attention to our mom. My sister knew not to discount a dream with Grams, so she called my brother and they got to my mom’s apartment just as she was having a stroke. It saved her life.

Pretty freaky, huh?

I’ve share that story with many people, and they’re shared their own stories with me about dearly departed friends and family showing up in dreams and in other ways, reminding us that they’re still dear but not so departed. We don’t understand how it all works, exactly, but we know there’s something there, something beyond our comprehension.

And none of it is really surprising. After all, persistent love would never let a little thing like death get in the way.