March 19, 2009

My Grandma: A Christian I Admire

"Tractored out"; Power farming displ...Image via Wikipedia

I am writing this post for myself because...well, I really need to. I don't know if it will accomplish anything or be worth reading, but I need it. I know I am an atheist and so I am supposed to be a heartless, uncaring, generally evil, baby-eating son-of-a-bitch. So I am sorry for breaking protocol a bit here. You see, my Grandma is dying and dammit, I do feel something.

She has lived a long and happy life, is now in her 90s, and has been in unbelievably good health until very recently. Quite simply, her heart is wearing out. She's been in and out of the hospital quite a bit lately, recovering fairly quickly but then having to return days later. There is little question but that the end is approaching quickly.

In the sense of how many Christians describe themselves, my Grandma is the most devout Christian I have known. She's no evangelical or fundamentalist. In fact, I consider her a good example of what I think of as a moderate Christian.

She has lived most of her life in a small town in the South. She was always very involved in both her church and her community and is one of those rare sorts who seemed to know everyone in town but gossip about no one. She has always been both thrifty and generous. A child of the first Great Depression, she has never felt comfortable spending money on herself. She would rather give it to others who needed it more. Without her help, I never would have been able to attend the college I did.

Try as I might, I cannot think of anyone I have ever known who so clearly embodied the character of Jesus in the Christian bible. If I thought for a second that there was any sort of Christian heaven, I would have little doubt that she would end up there. Of course, I know better than to delude myself.

I am certainly not trying to hold my Grandma up as perfect. I remember how annoying I found her in my youth. She always seemed happy even when the circumstances did not warrant it. She would say things I regarded as incredibly stupid (e.g., telling my Mom that she should smile more even when she didn't feel like it). She could not stand conflict of any kind and would pick the worst possible moments during my rebellious adolescence to suggest that I read the Christian bible. She used to vote for presidential candidates based on who she thought was more attractive. I could go on and on. The thing is, I now recognize how trivial much of this sounds.

There are many lessons I could take from my Grandma's life. As I write this, the one that stands out for me is that she has always seemed comfortable in her own skin. I do not recall her ever seeming interested in impressing others, trying to outdo the neighbors, or concealing her real self. She wanted to be liked, and this was always more important to her than it ever will be for me, but it did not seem to get in her way or lead her to change her presentation. Sure, she's a bit anxious and has always been something of a worrier, but her concerns were always for others rather than herself. Her anxiety was always focused on the welfare of others, and if she experienced sadness, it was generally because she could not do enough to help. I am sure other lessons will occur to me in time, but this is the one that strikes me now.

You know, I think one of the main reasons I found my Grandma to be so annoying at times was that being around her made me feel deficient. She always seemed so accepting of others, so patient, so everything that I wasn't and never will be - that I remember feeling that it amplified my own faults. As uncomfortable as this is to acknowledge, I wish more of her had rubbed off on me.

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