Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Model Adult

Over the course of the few years I've been a pastor one particularly persistent rumor has constantly dogged me. It's summed up like this, "Pastor Wes doesn't like 'old people.'" Now, in the six years I've been pastoring that's been said to me exactly once (once) - but it flutters on the wind to my ears every so often by voices unknown and I would like to point something out just to cleanse my own soul. My model for adult-hood is, in fact, one of the oldest people I have ever met - my paternal grandfather, affectionately, "Pop Pop."

Pop Pop remains to be the most remarkable person I've ever met. Poor, yet generous. Formerly uneducated, but always learning. A lover of home, but enjoying adventure. Mature, but boisterous. Pop Pop touched so many people with his life that the Church his funeral was held at was standing room only. His children, neighbors of several generations, friends, extended family, neighborhood kids, and grand-children, and even great grand-children all flocked to the Church to grieve his passing. It's simultaneously one of the most wonderful and awful days of my life. Awful because I said good-bye, wonderful because even in death Pop Pop was teaching me how to live. That's what great people do.

Here's some of the things Pop Pop modeled for me, and which I continue to emulate:
  • A sense of wonder: Even though he wasn't formerly educated, and even though he had come of age during the great depression (an experience which has left many to cave in one themselves) - Pop Pop never lost as sense of awe at what was going on around him. He could fix a car with his hands tied behind his back, go fishing at the drop of a hat, and analyze a baseball game like he was a professional, and beamed with joy at all the cool things he lived to see - the Internet, commercial air travel, space flight, digital cameras, special effects. I remember stopping by once for a visit while he was reading his weekly Time Magazine. He looked up and hooted, "Oh wow, the world is about to change!" He had been reading an article on the soon-to-be-realized potential of cold fusion (oops). He never lost that joy of discovery, or sharing in another's discoveries.
  • Voracious Reading: When most of my peers got to college, they were swamped by the reading that was suddenly required of them. Not me, and Pop Pop is largely to thank for that. He read novels constantly, sometimes two or three at once. It was a love passed on to my father (and which my mother shared), and when I and my sisters came of age we essentially had our own book-club. By the time I graduated High School I might not have read many of the text-books (who writes those things? I mean, really...) but I'd read Clancy, Stephen King, and other popular authors over and over an over again. The family used to thrill at finding a new author no one had read yet (though I could never get him to read Star Wars novels...oh well). Because of my family's voracious appetite for reading, which started with Pop Pop, college was pretty much a piece of cake. I still have to have two or three books going at the same time - and, like Pop Pop, I hope that remains until the day that I die.
  • Grew Old with Ghusto: Pop Pop was one of the most mature people I've ever met. It's a distinction he continued to grown into even as an "adult" (my father once pointed out that his family had, growing up tended to ignore problems hoping they'd go away - that wasn't the man I knew later). His children had grown up (and moved around the corner - I grew up with an extended family), he physically had gotten a bit slower, and he eventually lost his wife to Alzheimer's - but he never succumbed to the temptation to say, "I'm old now and all the good stuff is behind me." Pop Pop in his 70's resided his own house. In his 80's went skiing and started competing in the senior olympics. In his 90's he actually hung some cabinets in his kitchen by himself (and got a couple of stitches to prove it). When I was a senior in College he took me out to play tennis, and kicked my butt all over the court. You haven't learned humility until you've been aced by an 89 year old man. I think I won one game in two sets, and I was lucky to have won that! Yet, he wasn't a boyish adventurer, life had left him with wounds and I was privileged to be one of the people trusted with some of his grief. The year my grandmother (Mi Mi) died I was with Pop Pop on New Years, he said to me, "This has been an awful year, between all the things going on in the world and what's been going on with our family - I hope the next year is better." That moment has stuck in my head - he shared his grief, and kept hope. He even began to take pilgrimages to places in his last years so he could say good-bye. Pop Pop knew how to grieve, because he knew that was his way forward.
  • Love those you touch: Pop Pop was not perfect, there were people he did not like, and never did fully get rid of some old prejudices (which Mi Mi sometimes castigated him for) - but if you came into his presence, hospitality was the rule of the day. The fact that so many came to say good-bye on the day of his funeral was evidence that Pop Pop was not simply a person you said nice things about in a eulogy - he was those things. Growing up, my sisters and I were privileged to have the "coolest grandfather ever" (he had an electric bicycle pump he had put together himself) - and the amount of time we all spend ransacking his house, jumping his fence, and climbing the Red Maple on his front lawn we some of the best memories of an entire generation of kid who grew up in that neighborhood. He was always the adult, but we knew without a doubt that he was for us. It's something I try to model in my own life, but not with as much success.
  • A love of teaching: Pop Pop was a born teacher. He could explain concepts to me that I only later found out were dead-on correct (he loved physics), and he spent hours teaching me how to pitch on his front lawn (and probably a couple hundred dollars in lost baseballs). The thing was, when Pop Pop taught something - it stuck. I spend hours in his basement, as Pop Pop tinkered away in his workshop on some project for the house. I learned what all the tools did and how to use them (I've never been any good with them, but I know what they're supposed to do). When I asked if we could make an airplane out of the scaps of wood in his basement he not only worked me through it, but also explained how it was that an airplane propeller worked. Pop Pop's ability to teach, and make it so interesting that I bothered persevering with things I didn't readily get, is one of the key reasons I teach today. I grew up with a master.
I could say more, but you get the picture. An "old person" is the best reference I have for being a true adult. He is someone I respect deeply and love dearly. He died six years ago, if I'm correct he'd been 98 right now - and if cancer hadn't taken him when it did he'd probably still be bowling, reading Time Magazine, and reading about the workings of the Internet (he never had a computer, but could explain the Internet, weird). He'd also have 4 or 5 books lined up for reading, take naps in his hammock during the summer, and his bicycle pump would still be open for business for an entire new generation of kids he not only didn't resent - but dearly loved.

It's not old people I have trouble with, it's people of all ages who have decided that they have gone so far and will go no further. I have difficulty with people who have given up on wonder, the joy of discovery, and who have decided that their every desire should be catered to. Bitter people who have traded life for drudgery, and hope for despair. Those are the people I have difficulty with - and they come in all ages and colors and backgrounds.

I'm not taking that route, because it leads to being dead even before we die. No thanks, I'll run with Pop Pop - because I think he understood how to live, and never gave up the hope that he could. Though Pop Pop was no theologian, I think his life was one of a positive prophet - it's too bad that people listen to those prophets even less than the ones who yell and scream a lot, the world would be a better place if we would.

I thank God for Pop Pop, one of the oldest people I've ever met.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Great post, Wes. If that isn't a wake up call to take more ownership of what I do with my life, I'm not sure what else would be.

Thanks for that.