I had the esteemed pleasure of spending time with my huge, loving, Italian family over Easter this past weekend. Having evolved in my own spirituality from the days of CCD and Commandments left ignored, Easter and most holidays have become about a deep sense of joy and gratitude for the people in my life. This year the generational span was its greatest to my recollection: a new member of our family was 1 day old and my grandfather just celebrated his 90 birthday in February. 90 years of shared experiences sat around the table: births, deaths, marriages, and one divorce. Mine.
After the plates had been cleared from dinner and all the requisite garlic bread had been consumed, my Jewish boyfriend and I were kibitzing with my uncle about their shared childhood town. Not knowing the roads that lead between the 169 towns in Connecticut, my mind and ears started drifting to the other end of the table where my mother was talking to my grandfather. Since the beginning of my grandmother’s mental and, ultimately, physical decline due to dementia close to a decade ago, my grandfather’s rededication to his marital vows guided every movement, consideration and difficult choice. He was sturdy, though the weight of the sort of ’round-the-clock care usually reserved for infants on his 80+ year old body, paired with a pain too grand and too time consuming to be addressed, was evident. As Pat Rodegast wrote in Emanuel’s Book, “Death is like taking off a tight shoe.” The relief of release flooded new life into my grandfather and he’s living each day for himself, learning Yoga, trying Gewürztraminer with his new German friends from the senior center and taking day trips and dinners with his “lady friend”, a lovely woman, well-traveled and refreshingly independent.
My mother and grandfather were in the middle of a discussion when something caught my eye, and my attention. My grandfather had pulled out his worn and weathered wallet, dated to at least 30 years ago when pictures of loved ones were carried in back pockets, not on cell phones. He was showing my mother his wedding picture, he at 20, my grandmother a fresh 19 years old, locked in glossy gelatin silver. Though I couldn’t hear the words he used, he was saying, “This is my Wife. With a capital “w”. I have had, and will only have, one.” He explained that his lady friend knows and accepts that this is just the way it has to be. The only words that floated above the hum of conversational communion were “It’s companionship, not commitment.”
I’ve learned a lot from my grandfather throughout the years, he teaches me even when he has no idea I’m listening. With companionship, not commitment, as the keystone in a relationship, there is no forced movement to the future. There is no deadline to hit, no isle to rush to, nor milestone to great to pull focus from what is truly of value: living for today.