When my Papa was middle-aged, he found the love of his life.
She was my grandmother. And through the years I was privileged enough to watch them live out that love right in front of me. While they surely had struggles and bumps like everyone else, they had something else too. What was it?
I am pleased to report that I don’t know.
But I saw it when he looked at her.
And I heard it in his laugh.
I learned what to expect from men in my faraway future by watching him treat her with respect, with dignity, with never-ending fascination. I learned what a real man worth his salt in this world should look like, should act like, should be. For all her many quirks and eccentricities and no matter how many times the wigs flew off or the cigarette dipped in the morning coffee cup, he gifted her with unwavering love and devotion. Sometimes it was eye-rolling twinkled-eyed devotion – but devotion nonetheless.
She was and would always be the love of his life.
There were many things about my beloved grandmother that could-make-a-preacher-cuss (some might say I inherited some of that cussability factor) and many differences in the way they went about coping with their worlds and dealing with people – she, a colorful and semi-raucous individual with a sly and wrinkled nose glance, a hopeless and rather comical hypochondriac and a penchant for high heels and gentle dancing. He, a protective bear of a man at every turn, confident, happy and a hopeful sufferer of legitimate ailments yet incapable of feeling anything but gratitude for each day he lived, whether or not he was in pain and more than determined to make her imaginary illnesses tolerable by ministering to her every need even when we all knew that the bat of her eyelash was more for his benefit than needed salve for any ailment. It wasn’t in his nature to argue with the beautiful and whimsy creature he called wife.
She was a character foreign to his outward way of living but crucial to his inward way of loving.
The inward was always more important to my Papa.
They were delicately and diametrically different.
All of that disappeared the minute she looked across the table at him. I saw it many times.
She never smiled at him; she smiled into him. He smiled into her.
What WAS that?
I am happy to report that I do not know.
All I know is…..
You don’t know you have it until you’ve got it.
You don’t know you don’t have it until you’ve got it.
You don’t know you need it….until you don’t.
Enter gothic grandmother and a tall praying man in a fine starched shirt and matching hat.
It occurred to me this week in preparation for peace week that as much as I’ve focused on what my Papa and those marvelous marbles have taught me in my spirit and heart since this whole peace globe movement began and how the whole blessed thing is in reality based on NOTHING I can logically explain and how it was birthed with the little girl in my heart who missed her grandfather ….and wanted to honor his influence in my life, that really, in essence, the entire scope of the peace globe movement is based on coincidences of random occurrences that blossomed into a cohesive ball of fire and substance – much like their relationship, much like their example, much like their love.
I wrote a post. I made a graphic. I found the earth marble made by my Papa in the 1920s.
I write a story. I tell it to you. You tell it to others. A movement begins.
And it makes perfect sense, no?
Like the round agate blue earth ball in the middle of the wooden bowl I love so much, there is a never-endingness in the idea that when one story, one idea, one truth touches the global heart of man it spontaneously perpetuates into all manner of mutated species and cultures, blind to the differences, tolerant of the language barriers, spinning wildly out of control on the same blue rock we call planet Earth. It still maintains the composite structure of rocks and of people and of Earth, building strength as it cohesively binds to the next rock and the next rock and one after that.
Until finally there is nothing but a big blue rock of all that is, hopefully, peaceful and good.
Somehow in a roundabout collision course of uncanny coincidences from start to finish, it makes perfect sense and it makes no sense at all. And on a personal level it seems the salty lessons are engraved on my heart in reams so deeply true that I can’t tell where one memory ends and another begins.
And that’s just it.
The most eternally rich experiences in life make no sense at all.
If I knew how to explain it all in scientific cosmic terms that make sense, I would. I would tell you why it is that out of my pen keeps spinning tales of a life that began nearly a century ago and speak to me now …I would tell you how that came to be if I knew how to do so.
I am pleased to report that I do not.
Why do I want to mess with a perfectly imperfect chain of events that led me here…to one of the happiest places in the span of my life?
And then I remembered the Cokesbury.
And the song.
What WAS that song?
I’ve had that book on my mind for days. Where is it? What have I done with it? What does it have to do with peace globes? Here I sit on another Dona Nobis Pacem Eve and have not finished my own post. It is perfect imperfection! Again! Four hours ’til the stroke of midnight and I have a half-baked peace post. When the muse stops speaking, I stop writing. That is how it is in my pen-shaped pencil skirt world.
So this afternoon while Australia and New Zealand blogged peace on the other side of the world, their fearless leader went outside to pick a few wild pink mums. I had visions of hippie flowers in my hair and silliness for BlogBlast For Peace Day.
The muse had another idea.
The song…the song….Something about moving along and being tempted and tried and it had a certain predictable lilt that made you want to know more and yet somehow you knew there would be no answers really and that the same song would be sung next Sunday in the very church you see here by the same out-of-tune grandmother and all would be right with her out-of-tune world.
I decided to find the hymnal.
So I went downstairs to a box of music books and fished it out from the dust of funeral services gone by. It was Papa’s personal copy. I ran my fingers across the inside cover scribbled with the name of a man who could not sing above a mumble. And I remembered…and heard the music….and remembered. The smell of the wooden pews. The polish. The carpet. The altar. The tinny tuned piano. How joyfully my grandmother stood in the little country church you see here and held that proud brown Cokesbury with his name in it. She was an “alto“ and proud of it. On the back row. Middle. She sang. And sang. And sang. And even as I use that term loosely in her dearly departed presence I remember how she made me learn to read shape notes. It made her happy. It made my piano teacher crazy. It didn’t matter. Nobody could sing as badly and with as much joy as my grandmother. Truly. (don’t tell her I said that) Oh I knew I’d get a rap on my knuckles from my teacher. It didn’t matter. I’d rather have my grandmother’s joy.
Opening the leather-bound 1939 “Favorite Books and Hymns” I sang the song.
There it was. Page 38.
I laid Bloggingham’s flowers on the page.
“Farther along we’ll know all about it. Farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother. Live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it. All by and by.”
NOW I remember why that song bothered me so. Who wants to wait to understand? Sigh. I found it uninspiring… so….so….depressing. Yes, that’s it. Depressing. Except for one thing.
My grandmother. She always smiled through the whole thing. Every square sour note. Like there was some secret between the tempteds and trieds and the toils of the wicked verse that I just didn’t get.
What WAS that?
I am happy to report that I do not know.
But I’m betting she did. Maybe I was more than a little irritated that she could grin through natural spiritual disasters and I couldn’t. Who wants to “cheer up and live in the sunshine” when the world is falling apart?
Certainly not moody Mimi.
I was a serious child. When things worth being serious about show up in my world, I tend to be a serious adult. And I see the enormous challenges we face as a global community. I know you do too. As a people struggling to live in peace with one another on the world stage of mismatched choirs, fearful that this great blue earth ball of dirt and water we inhabit will one day implode under the weight of it all…we are perpetual experts at the struggle. It is sobering. I understood Grandmother’s song better than she thought. We are brilliant at round tabling. We are bodacious builders of peace-seeking strategies. PowerPoint pacifism. Stupendously adept at the fine fine art of peace-building on paper.
We fail miserably at retreat.
We run screaming from surrender.
We don’t want to believe in anything we can’t see, smell, touch and understand.
I understood that grandmother couldn’t sing.
I understood that I hated that dreary song.
I understood that grandmother understood that there was no rhyme or reason in her Pollyanna philosophy.
And I understood that it mattered not one iota to her.
I wondered why….why the winks and smiles in church…why the knowing nods between the two of them…..why the certainty that every uncertainty known to man was a certain source of their joy. They didn’t need to understand why.
I was certain of that.
My grandmother couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But she thought she could. And when she would sing in the old country church choir, it would make my ears hurt (Don’t tell her I said that).
But Papa didn’t mind. He couldn’t sing either. And to him, her voice was as beautiful as her face…or her Hollywood sunglasses, her long dark hair under the hats they shared or the strange strange way their unlikely union seemed to jell into one – despite her minor-keyed world of wigs and harmonies unknown to man.
He learned to surrender.
No. I take that back.
He loved to surrender.
And that is the word we must put before any attempt at laying down of arms
We have to teach each other not how to unmake war but how to remake peace.
Because truly, if we believe that words are powerful and if we believe those incredible words of Mother Teresa’s about how peace is unattainable because we have simply forgotten that we belong to each other, then we wouldn’t have to think at the think tank of perpetual peace talks at all.
We could just step out of struggle and live in the shiny world of Cheer up my Brother and actually live in the sunshine.
All it takes is a life force on this planet willing to take the first step.
And show the other side that trust is not only a scary thing, but the only way.
Which brings me back to my grandfather’s Cokesbury Worship Hymnal.
I needed to trust the muse.
The last time he held this book in his hands was the Sunday before he died. In the back of the book there are Responsive Readings. He often led the congregation in those readings. I could not get that book off my brain this week. I needed to find it. After I brought it upstairs, sang from the shaped notes hymnal of cheer-up doom and gave my mums to my grandmother’s memory, I started thumbing through the back of The Cokesbury.
Would you like to take a wild guess where his page was turned down?
Why is that?
I am happy to report that I do not know.
But here in Bloggingham tonight, bound to my grandparents’ memory is a small bouquet of wild pink peace mums laid on a bed of uncommon love, shaped oddly like the sound of a far away tune in a church full of cheer in the middle of plowshares and pruning hooks.
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Maybe we keep asking for the same struggle and getting exactly what we ask for because we’re not ready to lay down the most powerful weapon we have