Last November, when my children's school here in Edmonds, Washington, held its annual Grandparents Day, my grandfather--their great-grandfather--flew from Erie, Pennsylvania, to attend. It was a 3,200 mile journey for a 94 year old man whose last airplane ride was in 1999. My mom accompanied him through the airports and on the two airplanes that carried him from there to here, and all three of us were definitely anxious the whole time.
But the trip went great, and the time with my grandfather was priceless. The school's theme happened to be the early 1940s, and the songs, images, and history from those years seemed to be directed right at Grandpa. When I picked him and my mom up from Grandparents' Day and took them to lunch, he was overflowing with memories he hadn't thought of in years. My mom and I soaked up the time and stories. We hung on his sentences, wanting more and more.
My grandpa has always been a simple, good man. He grew up in Erie and still lives there. His parents were Polish Catholics, and he's been an usher at the same church for over 50 years. But he was also an amateur athlete--in the 1940s, he played minor league baseball with some of the men who turned out to be some of the Greats in that golden age of baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, and some of the talented players from the Negro League, including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. But he turned down an offer to go into the major leagues because he had a new wife to support and a country to serve. He still tears up thinking about what might have happened had things happened differently.
But when faced with a choice, Grandpa seems to have always chosen the right one. Not the easy or best one. The right one. Obligations weren't discussed back then; they were a driving force, things to follow like road signs.
Listening to him talk about his life during the days he visited our family last November, I am still struck by how humbly he described his nine decades of life. Mom and I were blown away by how extraordinary his life was, but when I looked at all the smaller events in his life, they didn't seem extraordinary (except for that whole baseball thing--that's pretty darn cool, any way you look at it). The fact that he persevered and still lived to tell the tale made it all extraordinary. I was struck by how little he complained about anything while he was visiting and how little he complained about where his own life had taken him.
His shrug-filled what-could-I-do approach to his own narrative was so very different than my own generation's white-knuckle approach to driving our own lives, our constant sharing and comparing, our never-ending reflecting on where we've been, who we want to be, and if this is the authentic life we should be living.
My to-do list looms large, and I have big hopes on what I want to accomplish today, this year, in my life. I want to publish some books. I want to conquer certain Crossfit skills. I want to do another marathon and an Ironman, too. But maybe these goals should be softened a bit and stand next to simpler goals. Goals that focus on just surviving, just living each day or week I'm lucky enough to have. Enjoying my kids' stories at the dinner table instead of improving their manners. Watching my dog run her heart out while chasing a ball. Looking at the horizon a little longer than yesterday. Reading more than one chapter with my kids each night.
My grandfather has lived a long, full life--but he has no giant accomplishments that come up when you Google his name. But Lenny Kolakowski is special to me and my children because he showed up, laughed with them, told a few jokes, shared cake with them.
Maybe this month in this Slice of Life challenge I'll do my best to tune into those little things that get pushed aside in this harried American life I have created for myself. Maybe I'll breathe more and give myself permission to post some shorter notes and less than earth-shattering reflections. Because sometimes it's just about showing up and doing all the ordinary stuff, and over the course of time it'll be something extraordinary.