Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remembering Loved Ones

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Anonymous (Hebrews 12.1)

My maternal grandmother was born on Feb. 17 and my paternal grandmother was born on Feb. 21. Both are now dead.

My paternal grandmother, "Mama D," (in the south grannies are often called "mama,"), influenced me in ways that I hardly recognized until after she died. She was a storyteller, a poet, a teacher, a traveler, and a fiercely independent soul. She was the first and one of the few in my family who took my aspirations as a creative-artist seriously and was the first to let me know that higher education was in my future. I never doubted it. She was stern in some ways, but she was a powerful figure and the truth is the two masters degrees that hang on my wall and the doctorate I am pursuing are probably in some measure the result of her influence. She would be very proud of my academic achievements.

My maternal grandmother, "Grandma," was the nurturer. She never traveled much and never had a career. But she gave me a home where I felt truly loved. I lived with her for my first two years of college and then I moved to finish my BA at a small liberal arts university 80 miles away. Thereafter, when I would "go home," that meant going to Grandma's house. She didn't understand all my dreams and plans, but she did support them. She was the first to accept the news of my "coming out," and she would show great pride in any accomplishment of mine, great or small. I don't think anyone has ever beamed with delight the way she always did when I would come home to visit her. She, too, is in no small way responsible for who I have become.

Mama D didn't understand my gay activism, and she was very conservative in her politics. Grandma was very invested in my going to college, but probably thought I was over doing it a bit with so much graduate school. But even though their grandson became a left-leaning, gay identified, artist-theologian which was probably beyond anything in their Arkansan frame of reference, they both are largely responsible for who I am.

Grandma died in July of 2004 at age 83. Mama D died in April of 2002 at age 85; but since they were both born in February, that is when my thoughts return so powerfully to them.

I loved my grandmothers; I inherited some of their best qualities, and I benefited from the ways that they knew to express love.

I share this deeply personal story because I am very aware of how much my grandmothers live in me. They live in my memory. They live in my character. They live in many of my accomplishments. My love for them lives on. Because they remain so much a part of me, I know that life has significance beyond our physical years. The season of Lent is leading toward that celebration that Christians call Easter. But Easter for me comes early each year…it comes in February when I remember that two special women live on in my life. I remember and celebrate the lives of “Mama D” and “Grandma” and I give thanks for the ways they show me that the power of life isn’t limited to the number of years lived. Our Lenten journeys are leading us to the hope of Easter – the hope that a life well-lived in some way will overcome death. And so it is!

(c) Durrell Watkins 2008

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