Our vacation, but far worse my grandfather's life. Last week the doctors told him that his condition was much worse that they had realized and that he had three weeks left to live. We raced back across the country to be with him, and arrived in Indiana yesterday.
Originally, my grandfather was planning a private, family only ceremony at the graveyard, but as news of his impending death has spread so many people have called and visited that he has been convinced that a memorial service would be appreciated by many.
My grandfather is and was a truly caring man. He headed a construction company and kept people in work throughout the winter and slow times, times when other companies might have given them a temporary lay off. He helped out families who were in need, not just once in a while, but in long-term ways. He was a boy scout leader for years, and a founding member of the River Rats, who cleaned up a local river bank and turned it into a wonderful park for the town of Columbus. For years, he and my grandmother made hundreds of wooden toy cars and baby beds with dollies to give to a local shelter for families escaping abuse. After my grandmother's death, he volunteered for Love's Chapel several days a week, delivering food to the needy and local institutions.
In my own life, he played a very important role. Every summer I spent a month with him and my grandmother. They were instrumental in giving me a strong sense of my self, of being someone wonderful. With my grandmother I shared games of solitaire and a love of reading. My grandfather, however, impacted me on a larger scale. He got me a pony when I was six or so, and took me riding, cementing a life long love with horses. He and my grandmother took me to Africa when I was eleven, an event that literally changed my outlook on the world, on race, on language, on living in America, on our responsibility to one another as human beings, on what the very planet was like. It opened to me a sense of wonder and delight in things foreign and different that has a profound impact on my writing and my embrace of Islam, of people from different backgrounds and cultures. He and my grandmother also took me to Mexico where I was able to practice my highschool Spanish and develop a desire to study abroad. He gave me flying lessons, and helped me become a private pilot, again fostering my self-confidence and self-esteem and engendering a love of small aircraft that has stuck with me. Flying low and slow above the fields of Indiana, and the woods of Massachusetts, reinforced my understanding of the unity of our world, and impacted upon my environmental views with regards to the need to preserve natural spaces. He visited me in China when I was there, sharing another experience which taught me so much about my own values, xenophobia, the strengths and weaknesses of communism and capitalism as practiced, the value of freedom, and the truly oppressive nature of institutionalized poverty. With the birth of my children, and the love he has shown to them and they have shown to him, from sitting on his lap listening to tv through his headphones to camping out in his rv, his affection and obvious love of my children has given me a lens through which to appreciate and understand the depth of love he has always shown me. Throughout my life, my grandfather has been a back bone of love and acceptance, of encouragement and expanding life experiences. Needless to say, his passing is a time of great sorrow. I only wish I could find the words to express to him how much he has meant to me, and will continue to mean to me.