On the Mysteries of Love
I had no idea how much my grandmother’s passing would shake me. Her death was not unexpected; she was 98 years old. My family had quietly anticipated the day, each year thinking, “Will this be the last one?” But when her time finally came, the shock surprised me.
In the moment I heard the words, I felt a bolt of urgency to grasp onto what had already slipped away. Though I had lost three grandparents before, it never felt this intense. Perhaps it was because I was younger then, or because she had been the last one, my last living grandparent. The thought kept bouncing around in my head, that “no one will ever love me like that again.”
It was an idea full of grief and gratitude. A grandparent’s love is special. As author George Saunders told graduates at Syracuse University in his 2013 commencement address, “As you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.” When we remember our grandparents, it is often with a kind of mysterious reverence, as if they are privy to some secret wisdom. A long life, with myriad relationships and experiences certainly accounts for this. But maybe, the real secret is that as we grow older, we grow deeper, and closer to God’s love. So much so, that we have the opportunity to become that love. Perhaps this is what Father Moon meant when he said in his autobiography, “The grandfather is in a position to represent God. No matter how intelligent a young man may be, he cannot know all the secrets of this big world” (91).
As a parent, I am keenly aware of my mistakes. I am also an expression of God’s love for my children, but I am too close. I am too much still in need of love myself, too much in the tangled woods of worry and responsibility that comes with navigating early parenthood. A grandparent has already been through the weeds and the thorns that wear away at ego. Away from the immediacy of parental concerns, the grandparent is free to simply love in this immense, insatiable way.
The other day I snuck out to do a quick errand. I was savoring the leisurely stroll through the aisles without any kids in tow, when I saw an elderly gentleman. He wore a talik (or bindi) on his forehead and walked slowly but purposefully in my direction. He beamed a smile at me, leaned on his cane, and with the other hand reached out to embrace me as I passed. I instinctively leaned in for the hug. “Hello! How are you?” He said, as if we were old friends. It was a beautiful, mysterious moment. I felt a surge of warmth and joy that stayed with me long after our parting. This, I thought, is God’s love—innocent, selfless, and without pretense. What a blessing to be the recipient, and what a blessing to someday be seen that way ourselves. My mother likes to tell the story that when she was young, a teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She answered, “a grandmother.” I can’t think of a more noble goal. To become a grandparent is to come a little closer to the divine, to be the ultimate expression of God’s love.
If you are lucky enough to have grandparents in your life, take advantage of your blessing. Whether you are near or far, connect and open yourself to that channel of love. If, like me, your grandparents have passed, let it be a day of fond remembrance. If you are a grandparent yourself, may you bask in the joy that you radiate and continue to teach us the secrets of this big world.