Memento Mori II

This one hits a little strange today. Yahweh’s timing is perfect. I have been meaning to sit down and write this for two days. I was going to write something about how mindfulness of death helps us with our consciousness of the value of our life and how that relates to our viewpoint on the kind of work we do. I think when we think about it, it means that we only push ourselves to do the most epic of work, finish it and send it.

So that was what I was going to focus on, and then, this morning I woke to a text from my Dad that my Grandpa Barney died last night. I had this post as the first order of business on my plate, in the workday, so, I guess there’s no more tangible way to write about death than this.

I felt close to my Grandpa. We didn’t actually spend a lot of time together in my forty one years, but somehow, I felt like he could see me and I could see him.
He lived in Oakland, CA while I was growing up in the northwest, and I only saw him a couple times a year at the most. I am the firstborn boy of my generation from all my Grandpa’s grandkids, and my Grandpa had a thing for that. He was always into genealogy and family history… He was the one who asked me to write my autobiography, which I am currently almost fifty thousand words into and now even more determined to finish it.

If I could describe him in one word it would be jovial. He was always bigger, kind of round and Santa-ish (which is funny because was a Jehovah's Witness so holidays didn’t exist) and had a big girthy laugh. I remember him smiling all the time. I never saw him angry or mad or contentious. He was also a bit odd. He made odd comments that made girls uncomfortable, like asking people to look up the definition of vanilla bean or orchid in the dictionary and go through ALL the definitions. He would bother you until you did it. Then,when you opened the dictionary, he would start to chuckle. Go look up the words, you will see why, or maybe you already know. ;)

He was an avid outdoorsman. He loved hunting and fishing and hiking, and I don’t think was ever happier than when his whole family was at a campground, cooking and building fires and swimming and telling stories and going on hikes and the like, all together. We probably should all have done it more. There was always a sense that we did these big reunions that were a pain in the ass for everyone, but it was all for him. Sorry Grandpa, I wish we could have one more. I guess we need to do it without the attitude this time.

The first few times I got drunk were with my Grandpa. The first time, I was about twelve, we were at his house, and he was day drinking whiskey one a Saturday and he started giving me some. I remember enjoying it as my Grandma protested. He argued that I was twelve and it was high time I got drunk with Grandpa. He was that way. So I had two or three bourbons served neat, no ice. If I was gonna drink, I was gonna drink like a man, he said. I think my cousin Joe was there as well but he was like 7 so he didn't have any. That day we read the story of Solomon in the Bible. We talked about wisdom. He asked me if I was totally naked, had nothing, was hungry and a man came to me offering food clothing or tools but I could only pick one, what should I pick? I chose the tools. I figured you could make more money with the tools and buy the clothes and the food. He applauded my choice. Now I wonder about that. Maybe with the clothes I could feel more confidence and talk my way into a deal where I got the food and the tools as well… who knows… We ate fresh strawberries and tomatoes from the garden. I had never had a fresh tomato from the garden, only store-bought. It was a revelation. Tomatoes were actually good. I had hated them until that day. Thanks grandpa, I still love fresh garden tomatoes with a little salt and pepper. Not only that, that little experience taught me that our tastes change, and that with experience, something we thought to be gross could suddenly become amazing. Maybe that was a little of that wisdom we were talking about.

Anyway, the years wore on, I grew up, I got married, had kids, and lived very far away, and traveling to see family just never seemed to make it to the front burner. The last time I had a meaningful interaction with him in person was ten years ago when I drove down to see him with my son, Elias. All my other kids didn’t know him. Thats a tough pill to swallow today.

We wrote each other fairly often. My last email exchanges were great. We talked about very deep stuff, how the family was splintered, how we needed to heal. He seemed to change from being a staunch JW to something else. We talked about God often and he never pushed the JW agenda anymore as he had a theological rift with the religion.

So maybe that’s the lesson here. We drift so easily in life. We forget what mattered and what matters and what will matter. We aren’t guaranteed anything but this moment we are experiencing right now. Every one of us will only breathe so many breaths no matter what we try to do to change it. Eventually, The Man comes around.

Do I have regrets? Hell yeah. Add it to the pile. I got a load as big as a freight train. But more than that, I feel lucky. No. Blessed. My Grandpa, whatever his flaws, was a hell of a dude. His smile was infectious, and even when we were all groaning from his cheesy humor, I think we all secretly loved it, I sure did. I can feel that smile even now, and if I can leave this earth with an impression even remotely close what I have of my grandpa, I think that will be a success.

If you read this, I know who you are. Or at least I have a rough Idea. I check the analytics. I know exactly who some of you are, and others, well y’all are kinda quiet. Send me an email. You know why? Cause I love you. I really do. I would love to hear from you. If you don’t have my number, I’ll shoot it over. Just to hear the beauty of your voice. Just to relish in the life we have. Just to be able to say, “I see you. I really see you. All of it. The whole thing. Your deep pain and your soaring joys. I love you. Memento Mori.”

Jesse Barney