My family is changing forever. When I was young I was told by parents and grandparents that this day would come, but of course, being younger I couldn’t know what they were talking about. Now that my mom is gone and my grandfather is recovering from surgery, I’m watching and praying for my dad and myself, realizing that we’re at a real pivotal period here. Looking back at what I felt about my grandpa, none of those childhood aches and fears matter anymore. I see him totally different now. He and grandma came up for Christmas last year and he said to me at one point that this might just be the last time we’re all together. I didn’t think much of it then, but stuff like that comes back to you at times like this, you know?
When this kind of thing happens, you finally feel like an adult. Last night I spoke to my three young children about growth and change. We’ve all been through a lot since Thanksgiving, and I think we’ve stayed pretty close through it all. Somehow at thirty-three I’m still surprised that I’m the one to carry on the family name here, and that I’m actually doing it. In recent years my family has come to terms with my choice to live in intentional community here in Chicago. I think they actually respect our decision. I can’t say they fully understand it, but they see we’re trying to live as Christians and that we do really love the Lord. They may not understand how living without money helps us do that, but they respect us as much as we could ask.
I was talking to my great aunt, my grandpa’s sister, and I mentioned that I noticed that Grandpa had changed alot in the last few years, that I sensed he’d grown closer to the Lord. She thanked me for saying that and then said, “I’ve seen you change too.” That surprised me. I thought, “How does she know? Was I obviously as messed up as I felt inside?” When you’re young you figure your family doesn’t know you or care about you. If they do, they seem to show it in odd ways. Yes, my aunt saw it and knew. I remember when I saw my great grandmother for the last time. She needed no words from me to know that I was miserable, incapable of pleasant conversation, present only out of obligation, along for the ride. She got me alone and grabbed my arms and said, “You are not the way you were. Something is very wrong. You’re not happy. I can’t say what it is, but you need a change.” Not in those exact words. I don’t really remember the words. I just know that I couldn’t hide from her because she really cared. This only after an attempt at playing dominoes together. How did she know? They always know. You can’t really hide from family.
I’ve been reading Frits de Lange’s Waiting for the Word: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Speaking about God and Sabine Leibholz-Bonhoeffer’s The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of A Family trying to get a fuller picture of Bonhoeffer’s intact family ties and their impact on him personally. I found these words from Bonhoeffer to his fiance in Love Letters from Cell 92 (143),
“This is a time when there’s so much to say that silence is the only real answer.”
I think I understand a little bit of this now. I’ve always been very sloppy with words. I use a lot of them and say many things I don’t really mean. Sometimes words just fill the silence. Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children the value of reticence, of weighing words carefully and saying only what they really meant. Here in the blogging world, that value is really lacking. I need some of that.
When I call and I know my dad doesn’t want words I just say simply “I love you, and I’m praying.” In this age, where time and space stand in the way of proximity and a cellphone is our medium of presence, this weak way of reaching out will have to be enough. Love and prayers are always enough. Those years of work at connecting as family have to pay off now. Josef Pieper defined love at root as “the affirmation of the other’s being.” Words alone can’t pull that off. I have to know and believe that I am loved by God, that He is for me, and that I am part of His family. Only in being loved can I work to love in return. To me that is what a rich life looks like.
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