Sunday, June 30, 2013

Was it Enough?

Was it enough? 

This is the question that haunts me.

Lying in his hospice bed, as he wandered through the haze of his 89 years of life, this is the question my grandfather posed - "Was it enough?" 

I loved this old man deeply.  I loved his humor, his delight in talking to strangers, his love and hoarding of chocolate.  The way he could become deeply passionate about a leaf of lettuce or a cool refreshing glass of water, but I was dismayed and angered by his insecurity. 

Was it enough?

My grandfather's life included a tour in the British Foreign Service.  He enlisted and helped to evacuate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Princeton Theological Seminary followed and he served for 8 years as Rector of an Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Boston. During the Civil Rights Movement he became Treasurer of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - which changed the future for so many African Americans by helping to end American Apartheid.  To this day, my mother complains about missing the opportunity to meet SCLC's Founder and President, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  While my grandfather hosted a press conference for Dr. King at their house, my mother and her sisters were (of course) sent off to school. :(

In addition to his career, he celebrated 60 years of marriage to my amazing grandmother. He is survived by an talented brood, (including me!) - four children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

His perfectionism was his driving force and his greatest weakness as is so often the case with us humans. 

He felt called to right the injustices that he saw in the world AND worried deeply that there was more he could and should do.

When he started to decline, my aunties began to audit his donations to the many nonprofits who solicited his support.  He was forgetful and gave every time he was asked, assuming every renewal letter was a new request for support.  He became friends with telemarketers.

Don't misunderstand.  He was a man of pleasure too. He took great pride in watching the Anglican Church elect Katharine Jefferts Schiori their first female bishop. And Obama's election to President of the United States made him weep.

His deep spirit of caring for others, particularly the forgotten and oppressed, and his desire to leave the world better was a powerful and destructive force.  He spent too much time away from family.  He became over-absorbed in work.  He missed important signals. He got sick.

Living a good life is complicated. 

As my dear friend Qui Moede likes to say, when quoting E.B. White,“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

This is the conundrum.

I hope my grandfather made peace with the fact that he was not perfect and never would or could be. I hope he also realized that his contributions mattered.  They mattered very much.

Yes, Grandpa.  It was enough.



Caryn said...

A beautiful post, and a lot to think about. Hugs to you, my friend.

Jim Siegel said...

Jocelyn, thank you for the wonderful tribute to your grandfather. May his memory be a blessing.

Stephanie Ceruolo said...

Hi, Jocelyn,
What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. I am sorry for your loss - and after reading this, sorry for the loss to the rest of us, too.

Beth Tuttle said...

Johnnie was more than enough, as are you. To me he was a glass half full. He was the seed catalogue arriving in January. He was musical peal of joyful, kindness. Yet hIs ethical fiber was the scratchy fabric that prompted us to sometimes healthy shame for our own cashmere lives. The perfectionistic shade of the blood we share runs deep within us all -- a prideful, painful hue that does not always become us well. Let's not wait till we are 89 or 91 or 97 to enjoy the day. Thanks for your wonderful post. We miss him too.


MobileNPO said...

What a wonderful post! It gave me the chills. It sounds like your grandfather did some amazing things. He was lucky to have you in his life. :)

Renegade Diet said...

A beautiful post, and a lot to think about.

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