When writing these columns each month, I usually find myself sitting in my Oxford College office adjacent to the beautiful quadrangle. But for this one I’m traveling between Georgia and South Carolina after having visited my grandmother, Jenny, who is dying after having lived 82 years. She’s in the good hands of hospice now, an organization I suspect many of you are familiar with or will be at some point in your life.
I traveled to see her to have the opportunity to say goodbye before she lost the ability to communicate with any of us verbally. We had really been saying goodbye for a few months now and maybe even years, because she knew that her COPD had gotten the best of her and that the end was in sight. But it’s still difficult no matter how well-prepared we may feel, isn’t it?
I was privileged to grow up two houses down from this straight-shooting woman until I was eighteen, which is when I left home for college. That’s a rare gift today. These days, especially, it’s not as common to grow up next door or in the same house as other relatives. In many ways this is a significant loss in the fabric of our communities in this country.
In the class on social justice and contemplative practices I’ve been co-teaching this semester, we spent a week on ageism and adultism and talked about this loss. Several in the class came to college from different parts of the world and some have lived for a significant amount of time in both their home country and the United States. They were able to talk about growing up in a home with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and, for the most part, what a gift it was for them. This happens more often, I believe, outside of the US than it does inside.
For me, growing up with my parents and also people older than my parents, was a gift because it helped me know how to move in and out of the worlds of multi-aged people. I wasn’t afraid of my elders. I also had a microcosm of community demonstrated in this family compound on a hill in a small town in South Carolina. I believe it was the original motivation for my interest in fostering community and belonging where I live today.
It’s hard to figure out how to solve this dilemma of living so far from relatives and one another in our country today, but I have to believe that if we can figure it out we will be stronger for it. Some of you, perhaps, live next door or around the corner from family. And maybe you’ve adopted folks close by or they’ve adopted you in a way that makes it feel like you have family close by. I think you’ll be all the better for it. Having these kinds of interactions will only strengthen us to care more deeply for each other and know the kinds of bonds that make a society accountable to all its people.
On this day I give thanks for my grandmother and ask God’s blessing on her and our family as we let go and grieve and also celebrate her life and legacy. In this season of gratitude, when it can be hard to summons up thanks especially if we are dealing with grief, I wish for you peace. I also hope that you will find something or, hopefully, someone for whom you are thankful. Thank them in person if you’re able for their presence in your life.
I give thanks to God for our community and pray that we will continue to find ways to strengthen it in the coming year beyond the ways we’ve been doing. We are truly better together, no matter who we are or where we’ve come from or where we’re going. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.