Monday, July 2, 2007

Because their Mothers Taught Them

It's days like this I think of my grandma.

My grandpa died before I was born. All the years I was growing up, though, we had frequent visits from Grandma. She was an early riser, and so was I (even as a kid). One of my fondest memories of her visits is of joining her for her morning calisthenics followed by a vigorous walk. Weather didn't matter. Grandma walked in snow, shine, or rain. And the secret to good walking, she told me, was to pick a favorite hymn, and sing it to yourself as you walked. The singing helped you breathe right and keep a rhythm in your step, she explained.

Grandma mostly loved Church music. But she had a few favorite songs that weren't hymns, and they all seemed to have to do with being optimistic and happy. And that was Grandma. While she has had an occasional bad moment (so rare, I can practically remember all of them), everyone who knows Grandma is hard pressed to think of anyone with a more sunny, upbeat disposition. I think that's why little kids loved Grandma. It might also have something to do with the fact that this October she will celebrate her 101st birthday.

It's not that Grandma didn't have her fair share of hard knocks. Her parents both died in the great Spanish Influenza Epidemic when she was eleven years old, orphaning her and her seven brothers and sisters. (They were raised after that by their bachelor Uncle Henry.) She raised my dad during the Great Depression, and lost the great love of her life in 1959 to cancer, when she still had two teenage daughters dependent on her. Grandpa died before they had a chance to move into their dream home in California together.

Grandma didn't let broken dreams stop her. I think she became more determined than ever to keep the family together and to make sure that we all stayed in the path that would bring every one of us back to the Celestial Kingdom, where she could be with the great love of her life again, surrounded by all the kids, grandkids, greatgrandkids, greatgreatgrandkids and so on forever and ever. Grandma never tried to keep us in the path by scolding us or shaming us. Just by love and example, as simple as that.

I know it broke her heart when I left the Church. But the first family reunion after my excommunication, she called me to offer to pay for my plane ticket so that I could join the rest of the family in Hawaii. Grandma once told me she simply could not approve of same-sex marriage, but when Göran and I got married, she came to our wedding. The photographs she took of the drag queens were the only ones that turned out.

Life is probably the hardest for Grandma now that it's ever been. Her body is slowly giving out on her, which must be hell on earth for a woman who loves physical exercise as much as she always has. She's still an example to us, though. When I saw her a bit over a year ago (the picture above is from that visit), and again on her 100th birthday last year, she was still full of kindness, encouragement and optimism. I realized that this is what exaltation is: to reach the closing years of one's life and to have nothing of hate or bitterness left clinging to the soul.

So on the tough days, I try not to get discouraged. I just sing an upbeat hymn or a song, and keep on walking to the rhythm. I can thank Grandma for teaching me that.


Abelard Enigma said...

Your grandma sounds like an incredible woman - you are very blessed.

Bored in Vernal said...

Just wanted to let you know I read your article in the recent Dialogue and was very touched by it. I love your blog and I was interested to read through it today. You have some wonderful thoughts here.

Beck said...

Not to quote Harry Potter, but "you have her eyes".

What a wonderful legacy you have!

J G-W said...

Abelard - She is incredible. Even though she is very weak now and finds it difficult to concentrate on things for long stretches, at her insistence my parents read to her the entire text of my Sunstone article and, later, my Sunstone Symposium presentation from last year. My parents called me with great excitement to tell me how much she liked them. I'm the luckiest grandkid in the world.

Bored - Thank you so much! I checked out your "Hieing to Kolob" blog and it looks amazing! I plan to spend much more time there, and check out the poetry blog too.

Beck - I do believe you're right, I do have her eyes, and so does my father! And I don't take the legacy for granted, in this life or the next...

Abelard Enigma said...

Could you post a link to your Sunstone article? I'd love to read it.

J G-W said...

Abelard - here's the link to my Sunstone article.

Forester said...

Welcome to this great group of blogging men. I hope they will be a support to you as they have to me. I look forward to reading your posts.