Sunday, June 30, 2013
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.