Most people’s grandfathers were merely grandfathers. Ones that snuck you extra cookies when mom wasn’t watching and randomly gave you wads of cash when you were older, just because “I love you” was the never-ending occasion and they considered spoiling you to be in their job description.
My grandfather was that, alright. But he was so much more. He was my friend. He was someone I truly considered as being an actual member in my closest circle of friends. Like, in the same company as the peers who were my age.
A lifelong speech disorder knit our hearts closely together and made these two hearts of ours abnormally tender and sensitive to the hurt in others.
Can’t tell you how many times I saw the man gather the unexpected burst of courage to say something beautiful and soul-warming to a broken person, only to find himself inevitably trapped midsentence, his mouth convulsing and nothing but stammering gibberish sounding from his tangled tongue. He’d hang his head in shame, slowly back away and return to his prison cell of silence with that portrait of piercing despondency burning in his eyes.
For nearly 90 years, that brilliant mind overflowing with thoughts and ideas was rendered silent in Bible classes. He never once raised his hand to speak or to impart his insights. He very rarely, if ever, voiced a public prayer. At work, his job demanded him to speak on a radio and daily, he experienced that naked and lonely feeling of an opened mouth making no sound with all eyes on him.
Can’t tell you how many times something moved him at church – the poignant words of a song, a scripture passage, a statement made in a prayer or sermon, and each time that gentle heart was moved, he’d take the glasses off his face and cry his heart out. The fact that a grown man seen blubbering that aggressively in public is constantly judged as a mark of weakness mattered never at all to him. He was too busy experiencing the beauty of the cross of Christ or being lost in the outpouring of one human being loving another to even care. To his grandson, he made it look like the most incredible strength on earth.
One of the very last memories I have of him was when I spoke at my hometown church. I’m preaching my heart out when suddenly looking down, I see my grandfathers glasses come off from the front row for what would be the last time and I begin to hear his tears. That’s how proud he was, how utterly astounded to see God doing something so dynamic with one of “us…”.
To this day, I’ll be speaking and I’ll look down and almost see him and my eyes are stung with tears.
On Monday night, I was talking to my grandmother on the phone and I heard the clock tolling eleven o’clock in the distance. Instantly, a lifetime of memories and innumerable happy times spent in that house inundated my mind, yanking on every string of my heart.
It was then when she told me something about my grandfather I had never known before.
How even as he laid in his hospital gown, reduced to nothing, wispy little strands on his head, every crevice of his body exploding in hellish pain, vanquished by the ravages of cancer, he was still continuing their tradition of giving her a card at Christmas time, a tradition that began in 1947 and continued to that moment, and asking with noticeable urgency amid faded voice if she had remembered to make a thoughtful birthday card for my uncle so he could be appreciated on his day.
That was how he spent his last hours on this earth. Loving and caring about making others feel as special as they are. And the shame in my heart at the remembrance of forgetting to call her on her birthday this year was never greater.
He passed away before that birthday celebration or Christmas could come. He flew home nearly two years ago. To this day, just the sight of his face or hearing his voice on old recordings makes my eyes instantly drown in tears.
What I would have given for him to have been there when the news broke at my grandmother’s house that her grandson’s lifelong speech disability had suddenly come to a shocking end. How much more would I give if he could have had such a privilege in his lifetime. Or that he could have experienced it instead of me. But for him, it never came.
The greatest gift he ever gave me was his heart. One that was instant and fearless to cry and to wail and to weep. One that helped me recognize the wonders God is accomplishing through me when before, I felt so small and insignificant.
This is why every day, the very last thing I do before I start my day is to put his ring on my finger and to remember that even though he has flown far, far away, his tender, gentle heart beats in my chest.