A Letter for My Grandson’s Memory Book

Dear Cole:

Three times today, tears have caught in my throat. They came in bed this morning while your grandmother was still asleep. A cry sat in my chest—the ghost of old grief? I remembered Kahlil Gibran’s words: “Joy and sorrow are inseparable . . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

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Some days are just this way, Cole, but they pass.

Tears came again in the truck as I listened to Paul Simon‘s “Father and Daughter.” When your mom and dad got married, your mom and I danced to this song. Before that day, October 2, 2010, I worried that the father/daughter wedding reception dance would be awkward, but those were three of the happiest minutes of my life. Everybody else in the hall disappeared; it was just me and Elena. We talked, I don’t remember about what. I rested my lips on her head. At the bridge, we sasheyed. We worked our big old hips, kiddo. Anyway, as I drove along, Simon sang and strummed, and I remembered and blinked back water.

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A picture of flowers? Actually, my soul while dancing with your mother.

And a few minutes ago tears accompanied my Starbucks coffee. I was listening to another Paul Simon tune, “You’re the One” and thought of you:

May twelve angels guard you

While you sleep.

Maybe that’s a waste of angels, I don’t know

I’d do anything to keep you safe

From the danger that surrounds us

There’s no particular danger surrounding either of us, but your face came to mind, and that’s generally enough to get me verklempt.

You cry a lot these days, Master Trouble Trunks. People who love you are always trying to figure out why. Hungry? Tired? Where’s Mommy? Irritated bum? A stubborn little rectum rocket? Sometimes I bet you just miss being inside your mom, where the gentle universe was shaped like your body.

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When the gentle universe was shaped like your body.

But I don’t know. Something’s going on inside me; past tears I neglected could be offering me another chance to honor them. You’ll have days like this, too, when you’re either over the moon or in the lonesome valley (or both!) and haven’t a clue why. Maybe there are human equivalents to earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Anyway, since I can’t understand myself, don’t plan on me ever explaining the wonderful, goofy person you’re sure to become. I say that in love.

You can bet your life on this, though: for as long as I can, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing right now: loving you with a love that roars silently, that looks into your eyes and sees what blessings are swirling around in your presently gaseous self, that hopes you’ll see in my baggy eyes your birthright: every soul deserves to be held in a grandfather’s agape. Not every soul is so fortunate, and if I’m right about your other grandfather, boy-oh-boy, are you ever in for it.

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Look at your mother’s and uncle’s dreamy faces. That’s because of you, you know.

Someday you’ll wonder what your first months of life were like. On one of those crappy-for-no-good-reason days of adulthood, you’ll think, “What the hell’s up with me? Did someone do me wrong? Did one of my relatives keep pinching me? Did a mystery person holding me whisper, “Everybody fusses over you, how cute you are, but listen here: you’re a hideous little dope”? No, no, and no. You’ve had more love directed at you in three months than lots of people get in a lifetime. No kidding!

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I actually took this one when you, your mom, and I had lunch one day. You were a happy little man.

Every single day, your mother sits you somewhere comfy, says something like, “Who’s Mommy’s lil bootie bootie boo? Is he going to smile for Mommy today?” then snaps five or six hundred pictures. At mid-morning, a few of the best ones hit the inboxes of people who love you. When your dad gets home, he makes you laugh and squeal. Both of your parents are beyond thoughtful and patient. And pretty much wherever you go, people crowd around you and get remarkably weird. Example: yesterday after lunch your mother and I sang “I Been Working on the Railroad” to you, even harmonizing on “strumming on the old banjo.” The last stanza’s a bummer, so we skipped it.

When you read this for yourself, hear a message from before your memory got started: Your grandpa prays on March 1, 2014, that the crazy, silly love surrounding you now will reside in you after your hair has come and gone, and that it will rise on those days when you are a stranger to yourself and remind you of my eyes, always finding the sacred Cole.

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Someday you’ll want to hide your goodness from me. Go ahead and try. I’ll see it anyway.

Love,

Grandpa John

A Letter to My Grandson

Dear Cole:

Thanks for yesterday. Lunch with you and your mom was fun. Getting your diaper changed with that irritated tookus was a drag, but you were a good sport. And holding you after nursing time was great. You were, as your mom put it, boob drunk. Congratulations and enjoy it while it lasts because the intoxication options of adulthood are a dead-end and won’t do your immune system any good.

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Work that smile, boy. Work it.

You’re starting to track the people around you, which is a blessing you’ll understand decades from now, if you’re lucky. Today, January 9, 2014, is your fortieth day on earth. Your pastor grandfather can’t help thinking of the wilderness and Noah’s Ark.

Last night, when your grandmother and I stopped to see you, I believe you finished leaving the agape-nave of your mother’s womb. You awoke from the long om nap that gives life. You seemed to me for the first time genuinely, authentically awake, aware as I understand awareness.

And you looked at me for at least ten seconds—in infant time, this probably equals a week. I mean, you laid one on me. It was luscious. It was a twice- or thrice-in-a-chunky-man’s-life look. It was a Joe’s-Cheese-House-in-Marinette, Wisconsin-15-year-old-sharp-cheddar look. It was a four-days-on-the-schooner-Victory-Chimes look. It was a week-of-solitude-in-a-hermitage look. It was an everybody-in-the-family-is-doing-fine look. You get what I’m saying, Cole? You looked the wind out of Grandpa. That look could’ve raised the Titanic from the ocean floor. Powerful look. Amen! Hallelujah!

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Titanic. Should I inform National Geographic of your powers? (Credit: Wikipedia)

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In your carseat, dreaming you’re Yoda. “RMS Titanic, you will surface.”

Or you may have been negotiating with a gas bubble or savoring Mom’s milk on the back of your tongue. If so, I’m glad to have been the object of your gaze, a visual mantra. But I don’t think so. I think you saw me and heard me. At this point, I suppose your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, and uncle are all big-screen faces drifting in and out of focus and cartoon voices trying to tell you something.

This morning, little buddy, I figured out what we long for you to know. I had so much trouble getting out of bed that I prayed lying on my side. So tired, Lord. Some parts of life lately have been disappointing, persistently sad. So I opened myself to the Sacred Presence as best I could. A song from church when I was a teenager came into my head, so I let it play:

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From Psalm 51

Restore unto me thy joy, thy free spirit. That was the prayer. Joy and freedom! Then I thought of you, thought of how many people are picking you up and staring at your eyelashes and speaking strange words and singing my-grown-up-heart-is-bursting-nonsense songs. And whispers. And kisses on your head—such a scent. And fingertips brushing your cheeks.

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Nice lid, pal. Just don’t wear one like it in high school.

I’ll ask your mom and dad to save this letter for when you’re a teenager having a terrible day. You’ll feel like nobody understands you and the world is harsh. On that day, read this and hear what we’ve all been telling you. Hear these words that are so merciful and urgent that they get caught in our throats. We want to write them on your spirit before loveless authors line up to inform you that you’re a loser and your mother goes moo.

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You don’t always drink from a bottle, but when you do, you prefer expressed.

Hear these words today, Cole, that we mimed and rocked into you before you could hold up your own head: You are beloved! Sure, you’ll fail others, and they’ll return the favor. If you end up like me, pain and worry will sometimes make you want to find a remote cabin and disappear.

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Dick Proenneke’s cabin in Alaska, forty miles by air from the nearest town. No roads. Visiting it is on my bucket list. Want to join me? (Credit: Wikipedia)

Close your eyes, buddy. Breathe. And trust me: our lips kissed you are beloved into your sweet head; our eyes stared you are beloved into your face as you slept; our hands anointed you are beloved on your pink bum with Desitin and on your neck with an old cloth diaper after a good burping; our hearts made you-are-beloved drum beats against your chest as we napped together.

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Your Uncle Micah is trying to tell you something, Cole.

Understand? When you blessed me with a long look last night, I blessed you back with the first and eternal truth of Cole Martin Thompson: You are beloved! Remember.

Love,

Grandpa John

When a Soul’s Door Is Left Open

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Cole Martin Thompson. Go ahead, show me a nicer pair of nostrils.

As I mentioned in my last post, my first grandchild Cole was born on November 30th. Days one through seven were dicey, as he was in the NICU with schmutz in one of his lungs. His face—and let me emphasize, it’s so boo-boo-beautiful you want to order a few of them ala mode—was jaundiced because his system was trying to absorb a hematoma on the back of his head, which was smooshed up against my daughter Elena’s pelvic bone for a week or two. Enough of that. He’s safely home now.

Most fresh grandparents are like me, all burble and coo. At the very instant of Cole’s birth, as he was soaring from womb to bosom, he crop-dusted his mother with meconium. I wasn’t there to see it, yet as soon as I heard the details I said in the voice of an animated bulldog, “That’s my boy!” Not because his first act was pooping on Elena, but because I took it as an existential statement.

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Cole wiggled his nose. We saw him! (Credit: corbisimages.com)

As a newborn he’s swaddled most of the time, so his activity is at the low end of the spectrum. (Note on swaddling: Geez, Louise, they wrap infants up tightly these days. Cole looks like a white cotton bullet with a round, fleshy tip.) In other words, he’s often motionless. But when he does anything at all, makes kissy lips or even seems to be bearing down, you’d think Pavarotti just sang “Nessun Dorma’s” final vincero! The kid’s butt rumbles! The crowd goes wild!

These are the days that fracture men’s souls; at least that’s my experience. When my own Elena and Micah were born, I was too nerved up to take in the fullness of their beauty. I missed a lot—ah well, life is thus. At fifty-two, I’m still a goofed up customer, but together enough to be present to Cole. And his beauty has cracked me open. No kidding, the Swedish Bikini Team and the Victoria’s Secret Runway Squad could show up, and I’d rather look at the face of my grandson. I’m not going to lie: I’d glance up every few seconds, but Cole would get most of my attention.

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Cole while still in the NICU, hypnotizing his grandpa.

Not even his face. His lips are enough. Or his assertive little nostils. God help this bizarre grandpa, I’m getting verklempt thinking about my grandson’s nose. I’m honestly undone. I’ve had hundreds of days when concentrating was difficult because of troubles real or imagined, but I can’t remember ever struggling to stay on task because of consuming joy.

Sure, Cole’s a standard-issue, boiler-plate, pretty-darned-decent-looking infant, but resting my lips against his fuzzy head has pushed open the door to my soul. Not only can I receive that boy’s beauty, but the lessons and wonders that crowd around me constantly come in for a visit.

Some wonders are quirky. Son Micah wandered into the kitchen last evening smoking his e-cig and wearing something resembling onesie pajamas, tiger slippers, and a hoodie. “I don’t care what anyone says,” he reported. “This is some comfortable shit.” My twenty-one-year-old has developed a taste for the Casablanca Hookah Lounge on Erie’s West 5th Street, where he read old National Geographics, drank Near Eastern tea, and smoked before coming home and changing into something more comfortable.

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Uncle Micah relaxing, smoking his e-cig.

Until Cole was born, the plastic Halloween bobble kid Kathy glued to the truck dashboard annoyed me. The joy space he cleared changed my sneer into a laugh.

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Oh, okay, kind of funny.

A couple lessons in recent days belong in the Whoa, Kind of Deep catagory. The other day I gave extra time to reading the work of fellow bloggers and was rewarded with this affirming observation from James Hollis, posted on agentleinstigator.wordpress.com:

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Jean-Paul Sartre (Credit: Wikipedia)

“What constitutes personal authority? Stated most simply it means, to find what is true for oneself and to live it in the world. If it is not lived, it is not yet real for us, and we abide in what Sartre called ‘bad faith,’ the theologian calls ‘sin,’ the therapist calls ‘neurosis,’ and the existential philosopher calls ‘inauthentic being.’ Respectful of the rights and perspectives of others, personal authority is neither narcissistic nor imperialistic. It is a humble acknowledgement of what wishes to come to being through us.

In my usual state I would have paused and considered such powerful words, but with my soul’s door open, I was able to receive them. “To find what is true for oneself and live it in the world”—yes! That’s my purpose. And acknowledging “what wishes to come to being through” me—another yes! I have so many failings. Some days my life stretches out in front of me like a cobblestone road made of imperfection. But if “what wishes to come to being through” me is a compassionate gaze toward the world, I should also use those loving eyes to regard my own brokenness.

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The face that opened a soul’s door.

Cole, wonder that he is, even guided me to a new appreciation of Facebook. A Napper’s Companion prodded me to join Facebook, but the friends I’ve connected with there have reminded me of human goodness. My light bulb moment came when my nephew Ed called himself a nerd for liking big band music, which reminds him of riding in the car with his late grandfather. Friend Abby, who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know Ed, posted this message for him: “I don’t think you’re a nerd. I think it’s pretty rad you were able to conjure up a great memory.”

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Credit: Wikipedia

Ah ha. Ed in Utah receives affirmation from John’s friend Abby in Pennsylvania. Technology is used to bestow a blessing. Civilization takes an inconspicuous cleansing breath. My past disgruntlement with Facebook had to do with news stories of cyber-bullying and friends being jerks to each other in cyber-public. Only after Ed and Abby’s exchange did I consider that humans are always finding new ways to treat each other like hot dog water. Blaming Facebook for a small fraction of its users’ shabby behavior is like blaming ranch style homes because couples sometimes argue in them. Hey, it’s not the house’s fault. So I say to Facebook, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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My soul’s door was battered anyway. Cole has done me a favor by unhinging it. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Is Cole’s face responsible for a couple of random epiphanies and shocks of joy? Has his beauty loosened something in me, healed an old wound or two, soothed a deep spirit-cramp? Is he helping me to see graces I’ve overlooked? Or is he innocent? I guess the only judge who matters is writing these words, and I say the kid’s guilty. When I suspect for a second that his eyes are actually meeting mine, my soul’s door swings open. The blessed trouble is, I can’t get it closed again.

Some time today I’m going to stop at Cole’s house, hold him, and wonder if souls can get along fine without doors.