Redux

Now look here, lonesome tree!
It’s quite alright to be on your own.
Even as the winds blow & fog sets in,
Nothing changes how deep your roots have grown.

Though your branches may get broken,
And your leaves may fly away,
Remember that it’s your unseen depth,
That makes all things new another day.

Though the ground be lain uneven,
Upon which you’ve made your stand,
It’s in your bones to grow towards heaven,
As if drawn up by God’s own hand.

Lonesome tree, you were built for this,
You’ll find loss of leaf, seed, & limb makes you stronger.
For the storm will water where they fall,
Then around you they’ll grow, leaving you lonesome not one minute longer.

So hold on, you pretty thing!
Fear not these uncertain hours.
Around you grows in silent a forest,
That will ever mimic you in strength unparalleled power.

Gifts

Sorrow—sweet sorrow!
How you bring strong men down to their knees.
Courage—sweet courage!
How you raise the feeble up to their feet.

Misery—sweet misery!
How you’ve taught us to be grateful.
Kindness—sweet kindness!
How you change the hearts of even the most hateful.

Ambition—sweet ambition!
How you fasten unfocused sights onto the prize.
Discernment—sweet discernment!
How you cause good men flee from greed & lies.

Wanderlust—sweet wanderlust!
How you beg the meek to roam.
Comfort—sweet comfort!
How you hearken the wild ones home.

Life—sweet life!
How I delight in the unyielding grip of thee.
Death—sweet death!
How lucky you’ll feel if ever you manage to catch me.

Chapter 3: I Might Be A Criminal Now

I pulled up to the house and as the garage door opened, I was met with a wave of devastation—the likes of which I had not experienced since the night I lost her 14 months ago. I pulled my car in and shut off the engine. Everything still looked the same. “Good,” I thought, “they haven’t changed anything yet.”

You see, when the house sold, all of its contents went with it. When I found that out it was like my most fear-inducing nightmare had been realized: Someone else was going to move into my home and live my life. I’d had the dream before, the one where I’m a ghost in my own home or maybe a I’m stuck in a parallel universe and everything is just as it is in my world except now different people are there. It’s not my Nonna walking down the hallway and it’s not the wheels of her buggy clicking against the cracks in the tile. It’s a different woman and a different man and different family using my kitchen sink, breakfast nook, TV, and backyard. It’s not my dog looking in through the window. And it’s not me reading at the counter.

In the dream, I’m standing in my kitchen and watching strangers go about their morning as if this is their life. But it’s not—its mine. They neither see me nor know me and I’m just trapped, watching it all happen. And now that dream has become a reality.

I got out of the car and closed the garage door behind me. I was about to unlock the door to go inside when I first noticed that something wasn’t quite right. There were paint cans on the work table and it was apparent that they’d been opened. The brushes looked to have been freshly cleaned and laid out as if to dry overnight in time for reuse in the morning. I figured it odd but continued into the house.

I had prepared myself to say goodbye to my grandmother’s house just as we had left it, with her paintings on the wall and dishes in the cabinet and big chair sitting in the middle of the room. But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was those paint cans and everything they brought with them.

Each room had been altered ever so slightly. The new owners, not set to officially be “owners” for another 24 hours, had already come in and begun to make themselves, well, at home. They had painted, moved furniture, and even brought in a few things of their own. The paint was all of one—maybe two—shades darker than the color currently on the walls and the furniture had been rearranged into a setting that we had tried a few years back and ultimately abandoned because it was absolutely ridiculous. And the items they had a brought in? There were three: A giant, horrendous painting of themselves (which now hung over the mantle in the great room), the ugliest recliner that I had ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of ugly recliners… I lived in the Midwest for awhile, after all) and finally, the worst thing imaginable—a Tupperware container of gluten-free flour.

“Is this my Upside-Down,” I questioned as a chill ran down my spine and the tears welled up in my eyes. Why paint but not really paint? This middle aged couple whom I didn’t know and had only briefly met immediately became the enemy. I flew into a mad rage. Had I not been alone, I’m certain that whoever I was with would have gotten out of my way for fear of being pierced by the daggers that now flew from my eyes. Maniacally, I began pulling things off the wall, out of drawers, and from the cabinets. I imagined that I was rescuing the salt shakers from a cruel, totalitarian dictator whose most terrible exercise of power was in bad taste. These monsters didn’t deserve a malfunctioning tea kettle especially considering the fact that they were probably going to use it to warm up water for the atrocity that is instant coffee. And the cookie sheets… Oh, the cookie sheets. I had to keep them safe! How could I let such innocence be defiled by gluten-free baked goods?

It was well past midnight when my rampage finally ended. I must’ve looked crazy. How could I not with the hot tears of anger running down my cheeks as I occasionally muttered “Thanks, Obama” while stuffing large paintings of sailboats into the trunk of my Challenger in the middle of the night. This was clearly not Obama’s fault and I felt bad about dragging him into it but, you know, there we were.

Once my car had been sufficiently stuffed with my Nonna’s things, I returned to the house. “There,” I thought. “Now it doesn’t look like hers anymore. It doesn’t look like mine.” If I couldn’t leave it exactly as she did then the least I could do is leave it totally and completely void of her. So I did. I walked through each bedroom, including my own, for one last look around. I shut off the lights as I went and when I reached her bedroom, I walked over to where her bed used to sit; where she used to sleep and dream. They had begun painting that room as well and had thus moved everything out. I stood where I had stood a thousand times before, remembering how I used to help her into bed and kiss her on the head before saying goodnight. Sometimes, just as I would start to leave the room, she’d grab me by the hand and say, “I love you, kid. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” And I’d smile and assure her that she would never have to find out. And she never did.

For the last time, I walked away from her bedside and flipped off the light. “G’night, Non. Love you,” I said aloud. And standing there in that empty room, filled only with my imaginary life, I swear I heard her say it back.

Then I left. I made sure that all of the lights were off and the doors were locked and I told myself that time would take care of the feeling that was gutting me. I prayed not for relief or comfort or escape. No, I prayed for endurance. Because at that point, all that was left to do was endure and take the next thing that comes. So I grabbed a couple of wooden spoons that had been missed in my burglary, thought about how technically I might be a felon now (albeit a yet-to-be convicted felon) and I left.
With a car full of my grandmother’s things and the only regret I had ever felt regarding her being that I wasn’t able to take the area rugs, I left.

——————————–
“Where did all of this come from?” my dad asked. It was early in the morning and my father and I stood in front of the open trunk of my car, both donning house slippers with coffee cups in hand. Steam rose from his mug as he leaned in to get a better look at my car’s contents.
“Uh, I stopped by Non’s last night.” He paused and looked at me—very obviously trying to decide what to do. I waited, expecting him to tell me to take everything back because this all definitely belongs to those new savage people. Instead, he pointed and drew my attention back to the trunk.
He gestured to the pile of obscure objects to the right, “Is that a lone salt shaker? Where’s the pepper?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t find it,” I said without taking my eyes off the trunk.

Then he nodded to the left, “Isn’t that kettle broken?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s a lot of throw blankets.”

“I get cold.”

“How did you fit those end tables in there?”

“…Magic.”

“And shoving?”

“A lot of shoving,” I said, this time looking down at my feet.
“Well,” he started. He sipped his coffee and nodded his head, accepting the fact that he was now complicit to my larceny. Then he closed the trunk. “Do you want some waffles?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I could eat.”

A Tail of Escape

The following is a true story. All people, events, and dog are real. The opinions expressed may or may not be partially assumed by a human on account of the fact that dogs don’t type.


I heard it before I saw it. There I was, lying in the sun in a yard that wasn’t my own but had recently become quite familiar, when I heard the unmistakable roar of Her car barreling down the street. I say unmistakable because I hear it at least twice a day, every day: in the morning, when she leaves for work, and in the evening, when she returns home. I like to sit by the door and listen for her; I’m proud of Her every time she goes out, even if she doesn’t always take me. Anyhow, I sat up, confused because it was way too early for her to be back… Usually the sun would be just dipping behind those trees to the left (I believe that’s what she and the others would call “west.” But I’m simple: I’ll call it left.) side of the yard when she gets home. But now, that sun was still hung well above the left-trees and something must be wrong for her to return so early. Then again, maybe I’m mixed up and today isn’t a normal day. All I know is that every seventh time the sun hits these other trees (right ones, to be specific) I find that gate open and for awhile, I live like her. But I guess it’s possible that I lost count of the days… I never was good at days. Here’s what I am good at: She left this morning, that gate was open, and I walked out like usual.

But now that I think about it, this might not be so usual, after all. Because she just slammed on her brakes, it looks like her eyes have been watering her face again, and she’s looking at me and the Old Man like she’s never seen a dog and his friend before.


I didn’t know that gate was open. Every week, the gardeners come and rarely do they close it so usually I do it when I get home from work. But it’s Sunday afternoon and I must’ve forgotten because when I left 3 hours ago, Mac was in the yard and now he’s not. I didn’t know that gate was open.

And I didn’t know that dog would run. After all, he never had before. Every Friday, I come home to an open gate and my dog still in the yard, as usual. But it’s not Friday; it’s Sunday. And this day apparently isn’t so usual.


I didn’t always go out when the gate was open. I mean, why would I need to? For as long as I can remember, I always had some one to bum around with. Even when She left for work, the Old Lady was still around. I’d peek at her through the windows and let her know that I was there; I liked to think that I’d protect her, should she ever need it. Luckily she never did, at least not in the way I thought she would. She always sat in the same chair in the same room on the left side of the house, the same side as the trees. Cold sun after warm sun after hot sun after gray sun, she sat in that chair and read books and watched TV and called Her and made plans. As time went on, I noticedthe Old Lady changing. She spent less time sitting up. She walked a lot slower. I kept thinking that if she’d just use all four of her legs like she should then she might move a little faster but, much like Her, they preferred to just use the two. Humans, right? Anyhow, every day I watched her change. It made me heavy inside. I don’t know what to call it. Look, when She brings out the leash to take me on a run, my insides feel light and all four of my feet can’t stay still. But seeing the changes in the Old Lady made me feel heavy inside.  And She didn’t seem to notice them, either. Every morning, She’d kiss the Old Lady on the head, like she does to me, and then She’d leave and come back awhile later.

As much as I love Her, I also loved being with the Old Lady because we had secrets. You know, the way friends do.

I remember the day that everyone else noticed the changes. The Old Lady was taken away and She came home alone, her eyes watering her face. I didn’t see much of Her for awhile until the day the Old Lady came back. And this time, there was no mistaking the changes. I watched all of them, Her and all of these humans I’d never seen before, sitting around the Old Lady. I remember it being very late and still very hot out when She came outside and sat down with me in the dark. She didn’t say anything but I heard every drop of water fall from her eyes and hit her face. I licked some of them but, to be honest, I think I might’ve just been thirsty. Look, it was really hot outside. But I also think I might’ve known that it was going to be just me and Her from then on.


I opened the garage door and dialed my dad. As I pulled out of the driveway, I cried to him, saying that Mac was gone and he needed to come over and help me start looking for him. The past 6 months have been hard enough and knowing that this dang dog was the linchpin in my sanity, my dad came running. 

Every night, I take Mac on the same running route, in hopes that he would become familiar with it and be able to find his way home in an event such as this. So as soon as my tires left the driveway and hit the pavement, I gunned it. Engine roaring, I took off down the street that we run every night, telling myself that I would find him.

I just didn’t anticipate who I might find him with.


She’s been lonely. I know this because that warm night that we sat in the dark together wasn’t the only time it’s happened. They say we haven’t gotten rain but I say they haven’t seen her when no one else but me is around. She’s started staying in, only leaving for work or the woods. She doesn’t talk much any more. She doesn’t write or read much either. She’s just sort of… there. Every now and then, I see Her walk by the Old Lady’s chair but she always speeds up her pace when she does. I wish she wouldn’t do that… It’s an awfully comfy chair. It isn’t hot outside any more. It isn’t gray out, either. It’s cold. It’s cold and she still won’t go in that room.

One morning, on a gray-cold day, I heard Her leave and that was when I noticed that open gate. I noticed the gate and I went and double checked the window, just to make sure that no one was there, and when I saw that no one was, I decided to see what She did all day. I stepped one foot out beyond the fence and I realized that it was the furthest I’d ever been from home on my own. And I loved it. I went right because that was where She always took me so I figured that must be where She also takes herself. I made another right, the way we usually do, and that was when I saw it: The Old Man. And he was smiling at me, just how the Old Lady used to.


Every night, Mac and I take two rights and a left to get out of the neighborhood and then we go west, south, east, north then west again until eventually we take a right and two lefts to get back home. I took the first right and thought about how stupid I was to forget to close the gate. I took the second right and wondered what I’m going to do about missing the dog and Nonna. I was about to take the left when I saw him laying there next to a seated old man, looking up at the sun above the westernmost trees in the yard. I slammed on my brakes and leaned over, opened the passenger door, and watched my best friend in the world nudge the old man with his nose and then trot over to my car and hop in like it was the most normal thing.

Apparently, it was more normal than I thought.


It all started about 8 open gates ago. I met the Old Man on my first outing. I didn’t stay long because I didn’t want to be gone when She got home so I left pretty quick. A couple open gates later, I went back. Then it became a regular thing. I always made it home before She did and I got to see the Old Man. They call that a win/win/win/win/win/win/win—that’s a “win/win” in dog years. That is, of course, until today because today she got home before me. I never figured out why but it didn’t matter. After all, I never was good at days. So I got in the car and was happy she left the window down because then I could hear what she and the Old Man were talking about. She’d stopped watering her face and had started smiling—But wait! Oh no. He just told her that I’ve been here before. But she’s still smiling! Only now, her eyes are watering again. Truthfully, I’m shocked that her cheeks haven’t sprouted weeds with the amount of water this girl has constantly trickling down her face.

But I’m glad She met the Old Man. I haven’t noticed any changes in him. But as for Her? Today, I’m starting to notice some changes in Her.


As I stood there, talking to the old man and looking back and forth between him and Mac, I found myself in a state of complete astonishment. I was dumbfounded when I apologized for the pup being a nuisance and the old man responded by saying, “Oh no, I love when he comes here!”

“I’m sorry,” I started, “when he comes here? You say that like this isn’t the first time.”

“Oh no, it’s not. He visits often. He’s been here for the past couple of hours, just sitting by me. Like I said, I love when he comes here.”

As the old man spoke, a teenage boy came walking out of the front door to greet me at the curb. I’d seen him before but I never knew where he lived. He was the old man’s grandson—and the two of them lived in the house directly behind mine. As the young man spoke, I got lost in my own thoughts for a second. Here, in the house right behind mine, was the mirror image of the life I’ve lived—the one that I had recently lost. And the tie between them was Mac.

I thanked them for looking out for MacArthur and promised to bring him back by sometime and Mac sat in the passenger seat of my car with his floppy-eared head sticking out the window, just waiting to go home. I liked to think that he was grinning about seeing me meet the old man. I loved to think that he knew what he had done.


We drove home in silence, silence but for the occasional sharp breath that came along with her eyes that were still running. Two lefts and we were home; I wondered if she knew that I was happy for her to meet the old man. I had been worried that she would think I’d forgotten the Old Lady in favor of my new friend but as I rode with her and looked at her face, damp with tears and her eyes familiarly heavy, I noticed the change that I mentioned before: This time, it wasn’t just heavy insides that I saw—there was something else. Something I hadn’t seen in Her in a long time.

We pulled into the garage and she shut off the car. I waited for Her to open the door and stayed still until she called me. Usually I would just hop over her as soon as her door opened but this time I thought she could do with the calm. So I waited. I don’t know what took so long but eventually she got out of the car and patted her stand-up leg with her strange front paw and I knew she was telling me to follow. So I followed. We walked in the house, side-by-side, and just as we were about to pass the Old Lady’s chair, she suddenly stopped.

She didn’t speed up like usual; she stopped. Like I said earlier, maybe this day wasn’t so usual, after all.


For several years, every day I would come home from work through the same door to find Nonna in the room on the west side of the house, reading in her chair. It’s a big, wing-backed, patterned chair that she’s had for as long as I can remember. It sits in the middle of the room with tables on either side of it, both overflowing with books, newspaper articles, and magnifying glasses so that she can read the books and newspaper articles. More often than not, she’d be waiting there for me with something that she wanted me to read. So I would come in and drop my work stuff, kick off my shoes, and read whatever it was while she decided where she wanted to go for dinner. Then, I’d go out and feed the dog, she’d tell me what a cute face he has, looking at her at her all day and what not, and then we’d go out.

Eventually, all of this became more difficult. She became more dependent on her oxygen and couldn’t go anywhere without it. It was ok though because she could breathe just fine with it. Looking back now, I can see how just not ok it really was. She was declining and just as you never see the flower blooming but you recognize it once it has, I didn’t see her deteriorating but I saw it once she did. August 15th was the last time I paused and looked at that chair.

I thought about how Mac saw Nonna more than all of us. He probably recognized her decline while we still couldn’t. Every time I came home, he was posted up outside of whatever room she was in. At night, he slept at her door. He had lost interest in his toys and didn’t care to chew on bones any more. For months, he just waited. Then, when we lost her that hot night in August, he turned all of his attention to me. I wondered if he knew that he had lost her, too.


While we stood there quietly, I thought about how badly I wished I could’ve told her what was coming. She loved the Old Lady like I loved Her and so naturally I, too, loved the Old Lady. I tried to tell Her—I really did! But of course she misinterpreted everything. She does it all the time. I mean, she thinks that when I lick her face while she’s watching TV it’s because I want her to play with me. She couldn’t be more wrong—I just really don’t get “New Girl” and I want watch something else. Anyways, She did the same thing every night that we ran by the Old Man’s house: I would go over there and start sniffing around and she wouldn’t get it and she’d pull me back to the course.

Look, I just wanted her to make a new friend like I had. I wanted her to talk more and laugh more the way she used to with the Old Lady; the way the Old Man still does with the Young Man. I wanted her to know that she isn’t alone. I wanted her to feel light on the inside.

And while we stood there, staring at an empty chair, I stopped looking at the chair and started looking at her. I hoped that she knew that I looked out for the Old Lady when she wasn’t there to do it; I hoped she knew that from now on I would be looking out for her. I don’t sleep outside the Old Lady’s door any more but I do sleep right next to Her. And she stays still all night now—I think that helps. She loved the Old Lady like I love Her and right now, I think she’s starting to see that.

Because she just started scratching me behind the ears.


I didn’t rush by her sitting room like I usually do. I don’t know why I did but I realized for the first time since losing her that this will get better. I realized that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting; letting go doesn’t mean losing out; and looking forward to the future doesn’t mean being ungrateful for the past.

And after the events of the day, losing him and then finding him and then finding that he had also found another, I was given the courage to do what I hadn’t been able to: Pause.

I knelt beside Mac and scratched his ears, thinking about how this dog maybe wasn’t a dog, at all. He seemed dang-near human, sometimes. After all, he seems pretty good at days if he’s been leaving and getting home before me for the past couple of months.

“That’s a nice thought,” I said to myself.


Honestly, I’m worried that she’s going to be more careful about closing that gate. She still doesn’t know about all of my other adventures.

And what’s a nice thought? She needs to quit mumbling stuff like that and not telling me more. I’m no mind-reader. I mean, I’m not even good at days.

Usually.

Wisdom of Old

I’ve been putzing around the house all day. I’m a putzer, it’s just what I do. I got it from my Nonna and I intend to never, ever give up on the silly habit. While my putzing usually occurs when I’m feeling particularly creative yet unable to commit to a particular outlet, hers would happen just because she was awake. Maybe she had a constant stream of creativity flowing through her, at all times, whereas I’m only limited to it for a couple hours a day. I digress! Back to why I brought it up, and to use the word just once more. Today, my putzing led to something that I had never seen before.

I found a box full of letters that my Nonna and Papa had written each other. In 1953.

A couple of years ago, she and I were going through a lot of old paperwork and letters (all, of which, made her grin from ear to ear and left me with stars in my eyes when she would give me the background story for a particular document) so I knew that stuff like this existed. But, today, I found a box that we didn’t go through back then. Or, at least, I didn’t. From the wear of the paper and the notes in the margins, written with fresh ink and older hands, I can tell that she went through them. Not just once or twice but many times since they were written over 60 years ago.

I began reading. Letter after letter, I started realizing that she held these in her hands, maybe even as recently as a few weeks ago. I figured that there’s probably wisdom in here that she hadn’t gotten around to sharing with me. I was right. You see, the more I read, the more I realized how much wisdom, intelligence, and beauty she and my grandfather, her most beloved, shared. I read her letters but I also read his and it was in one of his that I gleaned some of the best pieces of wisdom that I’ve come across in quite some time.

In September of 1953, my grandfather opened a love note with this:

Hi Hon,

It’s about 3:30, Sunday afternoon, and I am in the park like I said I’d be. It was fun pretending that I was actually with you for awhile.

Thus began one of the most poignant four pages of writing I have ever laid my eyes on. These letters were exchanged over a period of time when my grandfather had moved to California for business and my grandmother had yet to leave Chicago to join him. They had been married for 7 years, at this point, and they had a young son, Mike, and their only family was in Chicago. Through their exchanges, it’s very apparent the hesitation my fearless Nonna experienced about uprooting and heading west. That was never the picture that I had of her, though. No! She was brave and beautiful and could do anything she wanted. It isn’t that those things weren’t true of her; it’s just that they weren’t without insecurity. And that was a card that I never believed her to hold. To me, she was a royal flush. In reality, she was the first four cards of a flush in hearts plus a five of spades.

But, if life was a game of five-card draw, then Nonna bluffed her way to the jackpot. She had a knack for making happen that which she wanted to happen. And, after reading the letter that my grandfather wrote her on that day in September, very much like the day I find myself in now, I understand why that was such a knack for her.

This letter, in particular, addresses some of her deepest insecurities. Two, of which, stand out to me. The first, she felt like she had fallen into a state of existence. She was just going through the motions, aimlessly living. The second, she feared that she would fare poorly amongst the educated, wealthy people with whom she would regularly interact once joining my grandfather in California. His response to these two items is the exact type of life advice everyone needs to hear. Or read. Whatever.

To address the first, these were his words:

Tell me, did you think real hard about me? Because I thought about you. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind of everything else but you. Then something terrible happened. I remembered in one of your letters that you felt like you were just existing and that life didn’t mean as much without me there… No matter what, your life is more than keeping house and loving your husband and children. No matter where you live—life is all around you. Take this! The grass—why is it green? Why is the snow white and what makes it fall? How can you plant a tiny seed and in a few years there’s a giant, beautiful tree? See what I mean? God asks us to do more than to merely take care of our own lives. We are supposed to get interested in our communities and contribute our time and efforts in helping other people… So honey, we must never feel as though we are “just existing.” It’s our own fault for just sitting around and gossiping about things that have no importance. Take interest in the life around you.

My grandfather. Man alive, I wish I could’ve spent more of his life with him. But, after reading his words? I realize that the past 20 years I’ve spent with Nonna were years spent with Pop. I didn’t get to live his life with him but I’ve certainly gotten to live mine with him because his zeal and passion and wisdom were fused with Nonna’s. As I read his words, I felt like I was reading something Nonna would’ve written to me. This was how she lived her life! It never occurred to me that she could’ve picked up that particular wisdom at the ripe old age of 26; the age that I am now. I guess I just assumed that she was born with the white hair and wisdom. It never occurred to me that she went through a journey of development and learning, much like me in my current state. It also never occurred to me that my grandfather had such a crucial role in her development, as she had in his. He kept her safe; she kept him wild. And what resulted was the kind of love that one only dreams of.

Lucky for me, I was always taught that to be a dreamer is to believe there are no such things as dreams… Only realities that are yet to be grasped. I am a dreamer. And now I have the antidote for the poison that is existence: life. If I cannot find the life in me then I need to recognize it in everything else. We must recognize the life outside of ourselves in order that we may let it pour into our souls, reigniting the flame that has gone out. Your life, my friend, is your fault. For better or worse, you and I are where we are because of who we’ve been, what we’ve done, and how willing we were to work for what we wanted. Let that be an encouragement! For it is just as easy to take pity on one’s self as it is to take pride and get back up. You and I were not made for mere existence. Neither was my grandmother. She figured out how to live! I mean, a beloved grandchild of hers went her entire life believing that she could do anything. That was the woman I knew. That was the reality that she grasped. I was one of the people that she would eventually take an interest in and help and I can put my finger on about a million of those moments. Thank God for Lou Caradonna, right?

To address her second insecurity, the one she held regarding how she would do in a society unlike the one she was accustomed, and this is perhaps even better of a lesson than the previous, he said this:

The only reason, not the only but a very good one, for being afraid of something is that you don’t know enough about it. Once you start getting out and start investigating, you soon learn that people and things are on an equal standing. Imagine me talking and arguing with shrewd lawyers and doctors! I was scared to death when I started here. But I got out there. When you get acquainted with things, it’s not so bad. There is one thing you should always remember: truly intelligent people very seldom try to impress you with their intelligence. They just like to talk to a person who is willing to listen and learn. So Bessala, if I can keep up then so can you. Life becomes more interesting this way. A lot of new things open up for you. Your mind becomes more inquisitive. You begin to ask why to a lot of questions instead of just the question itself. Never be afraid to admit your ignorance about something. Always be willing to learn.

Just like that, my grandfather started the unraveling of the tightly wound web of fear that I’ve spun for myself. Knowledge is the enemy of fear. If we are always willing to learn, always willing to ask questions, then we’ll never have a need to fear. Because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And when you know your enemy, you know how to beat him. Or at least how he will try to beat you. Even better, when we get to know our perceived enemy we will sometimes find that he wasn’t the enemy, at all. He was just an unknown.

The bit about how truly intelligent people behave is my favorite part. Here, my grandfather suggests that a truly intelligent person ought also to be humble. This is such a beautiful sentiment that is lost on so many of the pseudo-brilliant minds of my generation and generations past. The second you have to stand on a box and shout, “I’m smart!” is the second that everyone stops believing you. I would argue that if knowing is the enemy of fear then being known is, as well. And the best way to be known is to simply be you. To speak your mind when your voice is necessary, not just to remind yourself and the world of how it sounds. Only the humble allow others to know them. The humble are the only ones who don’t build walls to keep the world out and their selves shut in. You cannot possess true intelligence without being humble. Scratch that—you cannot possess true intelligence worth learning from without being humble.

Today, I learned that my grandmother had the kind of partner, companion, and husband that every man should strive to be. He wasn’t a particular set of characteristics. No, he took the time to learn her. Not every woman needs a lion of a man and not every man needs a woman who is unbreakable. That’s what they were and what I want to be. But that’s not what love is. It’s about learning what the needs are of your partner and assessing whether or not you can meet those needs and then working, tirelessly, to do that. Shortly after this exchange, my grandmother packed up and left all familiarity and moved with her young son to be with my grandfather. She left Chicago, leaving behind the old self and taking on the new one that built two businesses while her husband had his own career, raised four children with the love of her life, instilled in all those who knew her the virtue that she and her husband had learned together, and endured the pains of every day life in order to find joy up until her dying breath.

These lessons are great. 62 years ago a young man wrote to his young wife, comforting her about her worries of the future. 62 years later, a young woman reads those very words and finds herself changed. Now you’ve read them. It’s your turn, my friend.

Will we pursue life outside of ourselves when we feel our flame dying? Will we put ourselves out there and make the unknown known? Will we expel fear from the ranks of our hearts by employing humility and vulnerability? Will we stomp our feet until the world notices how intelligent, funny, beautiful, or talented we are? Or will we just be intelligent, funny, beautiful, and talented, regardless of what they think?

Moving forward, what will we do?

P.S. “Life is more than keeping house and loving your husband and children.” Papa had his priorities straight. He saw his wife as an equal human. My mind is blown. Not because I didn’t think that’s how he was but just because now I have confirmation. What a man.

P.P.S. I’m a little ignorant to how to format using this blog. I tried everything to properly indent the quotes but it was to no avail, thus the italics. Look at that, I’m already admitting things that I don’t know. Stay tuned, there’s plenty more.

P.P.P.S. I listened to Ol’ Blue Eyes and Dino and the Glen Miller Orchestra while reading their letters. I’m officially nostalgic for a time that I never even experienced. I mourn the fact that, in 60 years, my granddaughter might read letters that I wrote while listening to Maroon 5 and find herself thankful that she didn’t have to listen to that junk. (Unless its Songs About Jane, that album is ok.)