Friday, January 21, 2011

Life Cycles

His hands are aged, the knuckles seemingly enlarged, stretched over with the papyrus skin of the elderly. They are still surprisingly strong, these 93 year old hands, given that they do little more now than grip a walker for slow treks down the hall of an assisted living facility.

Twenty nine years ago I first shook the hand of my wife's grand dad, "Pappaw", a rancher in south Texas who had raised crops and livestock all his life. At 64 he was still as vigorous and robust as a much younger man. He still worked his ranch, managing livestock, operating equipment, wielding tools. Those hands could fix anything and could seize and lift loads that I would have struggled with, being 26 at the time.

His wife, "Nannie", was abuzz with activity and talk, running her household with vigor surprising for a woman of 62. She continued to travel, play tennis and card games well into her 80's. They were the stereotypical image of the western American couple: Pap, the strongly masculine, reticent patriarch; Nan, queen bee of the household, the matronly gadfly. They raised two daughters and a son, who in turn, produced nine grand children, who in turn, generated legions of great-grand children.

Though I was a "city boy", I was embraced into this vibrant, sprawling extended family melded inseparably togther by abiding love for one another and unshakeable Christian faith. Thus I entered a new world, coming from a household through most of my youth composed just of my mom and me and with only occasional visits with a few aunts, uncles and cousins around the country. I never knew any of my grandparents.

Psalms says that God "sets the lonely in families" and though I never was aware of feeling lonely, sometimes we cannot appreciate what we have never had. It took the warm embrace of a large family to bring awareness of what I had missed. And as part of this new found home, God gave me Nan and Pap, who became for me the grandparents I had never known.

We lost Nannie this past August when, after a long illness, she slipped the bonds of this life to enter the radiance of the next. We miss her sparkling laugh, her steady and sure walk with Christ, her strength of will and character and most of all her prayers for each of us that sustained us in ways perhaps not fully seen by our earthly eyes.

Pap is with us still...may we cherish his presence as long as possible. I saw him weep for the loss of his bride of 73 years. I had seen him silently weep once before as the family began packing to leave after Thanksgiving one year. Off to one side, the rugged, quiet cowboy expressed with silent tears the love he would have felt awkward verbalizing.

Life cycles unfold inexorably before our eyes if we can pause from harried living long enough to perceive. The parents we once depended on for feeding, to help us learn to walk, who buckled us into the car, will, in their twilight years, need the same tender care from us, their grown children. We will still call them "mom" and "dad" (and I notice that grown women often still refer to their fathers as "daddy"), but those endearments no longer symbolize our dependence on them. Rather, they are now dependent on us.

But our dependence hasn't entirely ended, for even as their aging hands clasp us for support, we lean on the love, character and values they built into us over a lifetime, which we will then hand over to our own children, one generation handing to the next.

Thank you, Nan and Pap, for the legacy you have handed down to each generation after you. May our hands bear it well.

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