My grandfather celebrated his ninetieth birthday last month. Family from coast to coast — West to East and North to South — converged upon Langhorne, Pennsylvania for our biggest family celebration since my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1998. A lot’s happened in the last two decades.
I’ve written previously about the one I call Ahh, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about my grandfather the rest of my life. He traveled the world speaking about God and miracles and smoked the sweetest smelling tobacco pipes on his front porch. That I could come from such a wise and whimsical man astounds me.
When you’re a kid, you think everything is forever. Home and family are forever. You’ll never move away, you’ll never lose a single friend, your grandparents will never age.
And then at some point — sooner for some, later for others — you realize that this world is, in fact, flawed and rapidly rotting, and this spinning planet will throw you to your knees whether you like it or not.
You will move away. Friends will leave you. Your grandparents will get older every day.
I don’t know how much longer Ahh will walk this side of life with me. His stroke a few years ago brought that question to the forefront like never before, and it’s something I can’t unthink anymore. But I’m so glad we his family could give him at least one more hurrah, surrounded by loved ones and Mexican food and even a mariachi band playing on the gravel driveway once played upon by toddlers like me and my brother and my sister.
A sister who will soon birth her first child and make my already great grandfather, Ahh, an official great-grandfather.
As my grandfather nears the end of his journey, the life within my sister’s is only just beginning. The families recently celebrated with a “gender reveal” party where a big black balloon was popped, dispersing a cloud of pink confetti amid cheers and shouts and gasps of shock and joy.
A girl. My little sister is having a girl. My first niece.
This baby will be the first great-grandchild in the family, and I suppose she will usher in a new era. One of bows and dollhouses and diapers and shrieks. Piggyback rides and Candyland and whatever else kids these days enjoy.
My grandfather and my niece. Old life and new life. Measured by decades and weeks. Each so precious.
And then there’s me.
The Life in Between
Somewhere in the middle of old life and new life, I’m still learning the difference between living and being alive. I’m still wandering, still moving from place to place, still gaining friends and losing them, still watching my older loved ones age, this inevitable dread building in my gut, one day to materialize into a sorrow words cannot capture.
I’ve lost loved ones to geographic and emotional separation, but never death. Three decades and counting, and never have I suffered such physical finality.
I’m a naturally melancholic person, and I used to harbor great shame in my sadness. But now I’m learning to be “okay” with this to the degree that I now realize our great sadness unites us. Indeed, I take great joy in connecting my story to another’s and sharing in our hurt.
I count it among my life’s grandest callings to remind others, remind you, over and over, that you are not alone in your
Life is beautiful, life is cause to celebrate, life is old and new.
And life is sad, life is too much to bear, life is in between.
Life is the ninetieth birthday celebrations with three generations and the fourth to be.
And life is the exploding cheers of pink confetti.