My Pop, your Great-Pop, once told me, “G-d makes it so that things are the way they’re supposed to be.” Coming from anyone else, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I trust Great-Pop. This is a guy who went to church (sometimes), sang in the choir (because he felt like it; he liked singing) and never used the word ‘G-d’ in a sentence. Probably he believes in one, it’s just that, for as long as I’ve know him, he’s been an old man of few, but always carefully-considered, words.
G-d makes it so that things are the way they’re supposed to be.
I should add that, when he said this, he was talking about his wife: my Gram, your Great-Gram. Last weekend, her brain broke. There’s no explanation for it save that’s what happens sometimes when you get old. For some people, it’s gradual, subtle. But for Great-Gram, it just happened. She woke up one day and wasn’t the same as the day before. Or the 30,295 before that.
She started perseverating on how bad things happen to good people because they’re probably not actually good. Good people don’t need modern medicine to cure their ills; they just need to believe a cure is possible. (So she threw out her pills. And Great-Pop’s heart medication.) To that end, we all have too much stuff. The government is keeping things from us. Interplanetary travel is possible; “they” just don’t want everyone to start leaving Earth for Mars so they’re keeping their spaceships a secret. “They” tap our phones, spy on us. And so on and so on.
She stopped painting. She pulled the plug on her television set. She trashed every last trinket and Crayola crayon masterpiece her kids and grandkids bestowed on her these last 60+ years. She even tossed the home-made Christmas ornaments she crafted to showcase her favorite family pictures. (My Dad, your Pop, found them covered in last night’s spaghetti dinner and pulled them from the wreckage of Great-Gram’s trash and what had become of her golden years.)
But this isn’t Great-Gram.
Of course, you know this. You know this because I’ll have told you all about her. And, hell, maybe you’ll get to meet what’s left of her yourself, but it won’t be the same. Maybe, if you’re old enough to remember, it’ll even be a little scary for you. So, I’ll remind you about how she raised four kids on not a lot of money: Great-Pop’s factory salary and the odd waitressing gig. (One of her kid’s, my Aunt, your Great-Aunt Patti, was perpetually eight years old…even when she was 40. Her brain was broken, too. And so was her body. Great-Gram spent nearly five decades preparing her every meal, wiping her ass for her after she pooped and advocating for as much normalcy as a severely developmentally-delayed adult could possibly hope for. And then Aunt Pat died.) When I was little, Great-Gram used to babysit for me every other afternoon, and we had loads of fun. (We’d take advantage of “open swim” at the local junior high school’s swimming pool. She was the old woman who never gave a shit that her boobs sagged in her bathing suit.) Every New Year’s Eve she’d host a big party: lots of people in a too-small house, enough lobster for seconds, the ball drop on television and – perhaps to her neighbors’ chagrin – a parade of banging pots and pans at midnight. About five years ago, she took up painting. She was pretty exceptional at it, too. Life-smart, tenacious, progressive… That’s Great-Gram.
I wish you could have known her the way I did. But Great-Pop’s right: G-d makes it so that things are the way they’re supposed to be. Like, for example…this.
On Thanksgiving, I was privy to one of Great-Gram’s last, truly lucid conversations. We swapped favorite memories of our time together, and our all-time favorite memory turned out to be the same one. She recounted an August morning three-and-a-half years ago. She’d traveled to Concord, Massachusetts to see her granddaughter (me) marry a man she loved instantly as her own grandson (your father). Before sunrise, this very old woman left the Inn and strolled a mile to Minuteman Park to take in “our history.” (Literally, ours: Revolutionary War heroes, important thinkers, writers…your relatives!)
The town, she said, was very still. On her walk, she encountered only two people. The first was your dad, passing through Monument Square on his way to Bubbie and Zeidy’s room. He was excited, anxious and emotional for the time we spent apart before the ceremony. He was dying to see me. She told him to cool his jets. He’d see me soon enough. Don’t rush it. Time goes by too quickly anyway. Wedding time really does. So take it all in slowly. And, PS, “I can’t wait for tonight!”
The second was me. See, kid, when everyone was too asleep or too tired to go for a walk with me that morning, I went anyway. I walked a mile to the Old North Bridge where, as the sun burned off the fog there, I beheld the familiar waddle of a little woman coming toward me, arms outstretched and calling my name. She told me she was just talking to Nanny: the spirit of her mother, my great-grandmother, your great-great-grandmother, who spent a happy part of her life here. “I told her I was sorry I was the only one who got to see this beautiful morning in this beautiful place! And so she sent me you.”
G-d makes it so things are the way they’re supposed to be.
Now I don’t know if it was really cosmic genius or coincidence, but I was glad for her companionship. We strolled back to the Inn, arm-in-arm: grateful to be a granddaughter whose grandmother sees her marry the man she loves, humbled to be a grandmother who witnesses her granddaughter grow up and start a family of her very own.
When we spoke a few weeks back, I still hadn’t told her you were coming but, with a dying person’s sixth sense, she predicted it. She told me she was making preparations. She was ready. She’d seen absolutely everything she hoped to in this life – and what she didn’t she’d see from heaven. She might never get to know my kid(s) the way she knew me, but she’d be proud of them just the same.
Since I already knew this, I figured she was telling me so I’d tell you.
Maybe she won’t actually be a ghost-spectator at your Little League games, your high school graduation, your wedding. (Because, maybe, when people die that’s sort of it and “heaven” is just a word that means “no more bullshit.”) But I think sometimes folks see with their hearts when they’re still very much alive. They’re so filled with hope and pride and joy for their friends and family that they don’t need to witness a campaign for the White House to know their great-grandchild is really something.
She knows, baby. She knows.