The graduation season is upon us and my three grandsons will be taking another step ahead in their education: Connor closing in on his undergraduate degree at Drexel, Andrew heading for his senior year of high school and Erik a few weeks away from his doctorate from Duquesne.
They are embarking on life, while I am now old enough to be seriously thinking about my debarkation.
What follows is my open letter to them.
Good God Almighty, she was out of this world. The huge eyes, the sunshine smile, the little wiggle in her walk in her fitted red skirt.
Hold on, boys. I’m describing your grandmother! As I saw her on the day I met her.
My own grandfather fell for my grandmother because of a hat she wore to church one Sunday. In those days, the men sat on one side of the Ukrainian church, the women on the other. Across the aisle from him, my grandmother stood out from the rest of the ladies. Just as your grandmother stood out at Fordham’s School of Education, where the ratio of women to men was something like 10 to one.
This was Romance.
Couples in the Romance stage move in together these days. Sort of a socio-sexual test drive.
Then, living together or married, in a shorter time than you can imagine, Disillusionment comes.
Romance is finding your fantasy in people who don't have it.
The painful thing is that, in your heart, you know Disillusionment is inevitable. There’s nothing to be done about it. As Paul Murray writes in The Mark and the Void:
It's like when you find out your lover has been unfaithful: in one horrible instant everything she was to you, the whole beautiful enchantment, falls away, and you see her as she really is—mortal, machinating, tethered like everyone else to a little patch of space and time. And the worst of it is that you knew all along.
But you can come to terms with the Disillusionment, compartmentalize the tedium, reach a comfortable stasis until, over the years, you finish each other’s sentences. Even then you find that you can occasionally hurt each other in ways, small and large, that you never, ever dreamed you could.
I studied Latin under an old Classics professor. When he emigrated from Europe, his Ph. D. credentials were not recognized in this country, so he rolled up his sleeves and earned another from Columbia University. He was so smart that he wrote his doctoral dissertation entirely in Latin.
He used to give us a lot of grandfatherly advice to prepare us for life. My favorite: “Boys, when you meet a girl, don’t look at her chest. Look at the back of her neck to see if it’s clean.”
I would tell you that in addition to the back of the neck, look in a life partner for shared spiritual beliefs, for these will nourish and sustain your dreams as a couple.
I know you guys are at a crossroads of belief. So many people you respect, including your teachers, scoff at faith. The media, the movies, your friends deride Catholicism. It’s no longer smart to have faith, much less be Catholic, thanks in large part to the clergy who betrayed us just as Judas did Jesus.
But can religion be one vast conspiracy that has successfully pressed on for thousands of years?
Literally hundreds of people were reported to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Did all of them lie?
Why did the original Apostles who ran for their very lives when Jesus was arrested return to fearless ministry—and all but one of them die for it?
Is every last one of the millions of miracles reported over the centuries a fraud?
In Crux, Dwight Longenecker recently wrote:
I come away with the opinion of Hamlet, that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than your philosophy has dreamt of.’ There are enough inexplicable details, and enough unexplained coincidences, to make me conclude that behind and beneath the politics and power plays of this world there is another Player, another Plan and a greater Power.
I cannot persuade you with my few words today, boys. “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.”
Here’s something I think about often, and you guys should think about it, too: that basic religious and spiritual thought has remained essentially the same through the eons. But science is unrecognizable from what it was 3,500 years ago. Science changes and refutes itself daily.
Science, for example, still hasn’t decided if eggs are good for us or bad.
More significant than its vacillation about eggs, science to this day cannot understand how consciousness rises up from a lump of wet protein—our brain.
Writing in The New York Times just this week, science writer George Johnson noted:
The human mind has plumbed the universe, concluding that it is precisely 13.8 billion years old. With particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, scientists have discovered the vanishingly tiny particles, like the Higgs boson, that underpin reality. But there is no scientific explanation for consciousness—without which none of these discoveries could have been made.
But you and I know why we have consciousness. We have a soul. We are creatures engineered for eternity.
Pigmented oils brushed onto canvas is what science sees. The Mona Lisa is what persons of soul see—the transcendent meaning of those pigments.
Empiricism stops short at the threshold of the transcendent, unequipped to enter.
But there’s no reason why we humans cannot accept the transcendent, the sacred and the consecrated. Because we are a soulful species unlike any other animal.
It’s unfortunate that you are entering a world in which so much of the sacred has been desecrated.
Our society, for example, profanes the miracle of human life. If a woman desires the life in her womb to blossom, she proudly calls it a baby, photographs its sonogram image and gives it a name. If she chooses to believe otherwise, she dismisses the life within her as a tissue mass and flushes it away.
The consecrated state of life known as marriage is another example of something sacred that’s been desecrated—relegated to “a piece of paper,” demystified by pornography, profaned by the egocentrism of adultery.
My greatest consolation right now is that your grandmother left this life knowing that I loved her. On her deathbed she whispered to my daughter, your Aunt Julie, “Daddy loves me.”
Hearing those words makes me feel comforted that I have fulfilled in part the great commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—the French philosopher, paleontologist and geologist who had a hand in the discovery of Peking Man—said that, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Now that your grandmother is gone, what I like to do these quiet mornings is sit silently by myself in church, where, I believe, God is present in a real way.
In doing this, I bridge the chasm between life and death, this world and the next, the physical and the metaphysical. While I am worshipping God in church, your departed grandmother, now beyond time and space, is also worshiping him. She and I are spiritually shoulder to shoulder before our God, she with him in the Paradise he promised, I before his same presence on the altar.
During these silent moments, I am as close to her as I can be.
And this is Joy.
(Image: My grandsons: Connor, Andrew and Erik)
Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/
Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.
- Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R3SF200
- iBooks (iPad): https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-light-from-within/id950880424?mt=11
- Barnes & Noble (Nook): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-light-from-within-peter-w-yaremko/1120862902?ean=9780990905004
And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at: http://www.peterwyaremko.com/mercy