Letter #3: In Which Grandma Jo Goes Blind

Dear Aglet,

If, by the time we meet each other, I happen to have gone blind, here’s why.

I am in the habit of staring at sunsets. Isn’t that awful? I’ve been told since I was a little girl not to look at the sun, and that doing so would hurt my eyes and eventually blind me, but I can’t seem to help it. I’m sure you’ll never disregard what your elders tell you solely for your own good, Aglet, but I’m telling you now that if you ever decide to disobey, you better have a durned good reason for doing so.

I have a great reason for staring at the sun when it rises or sets. Here it is: it’s beautiful. And I’m drawn to the sight, even though I know my eyes aren’t strong enough to handle all that light.

[That is why they told me not to, isn’t it? Something like that? Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter now. Not now that I’m blind and I can’t see what my own (imaginary) grandkid looks like.]

I’m frustrated that I can never look at the sunset for as long as I’d like to. I can only take a glimpse, then look away–and when I glance again, the lighting’s changed just a little. It’s like taking a new and lovely photograph with every blink.

Someday you’ll be reading this and thinking, “Grandma, grandma, grandma. You were/are so strange. You chose looking at a couple of boring old sunsets over preserving your eyesight into your old age.”

I’ve already apologized in a different letter for being strange. Get over it, Aglet.

Here’s what I hope, though. I really, really hope that people can still notice sunsets in that weird, dystopian future I imagine you growing up in. Sometimes it feels like we humans are losing our ability to appreciate anything that isn’t technological or made from a machine. And while I’m here wailing the same warnings older people have been wailing since the invention of the wheel, I may as well say this.

[But seriously, can’t you see Grandpa Cave Dweller shaking his fist at the youngsters on the first unicycles hewn out of the cave walls? “Durn kids! Always playing with their useless, newfangled toys! Now, when was a youngster…”]

What I was going to say, Aglet, is that while it might seem silly to say “beware of technology” and it might seem foolish to resist all the change that’s happening in the world, there’s something to be said for listening. Listen to older folks when you can, especially when they talk about their lives and what they’ve learned. People like to talk, and if you can learn how to really listen, you have a shot at gaining wisdom when you’re young.

One of my favorite books is called “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, and it has to do with memories and emotions and what it means to be human. It takes place in a society in which nothing seems to be lacking…except, curiously enough–grandparents. The Old, in this society, are kept by themselves, perfectly tended to, perfectly comfortable, while the younger members of the society go about their practical, smooth-running occupations. There’s no overlap between the generations. And it’s tragic.

You should read the book. I think that what you might find is that the lack of grandparents only reflects the loss of many other things that make us human.

There are certain memories I have that I hope I will get to pass on to someone–if not you, then someone else. There’re certain experiences that I hope are universal to the human soul.

Sunsets are one of them. Holding my niece for the first time is another. Playing hide-and-seek in the curtains with my nephew. Seeing someone I love smile. Reading words that assure me of God’s presence. Listening to the third movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

All sorts of strangely specific things that conjure up a swelling in my heart. These things are real, somehow, in a way that watching other people’s lives on social media can never be real.

In Sunday School, when the teacher reads Genesis 1.1 and a kid pipes up with “Did He create smartphones,” the teacher says God created the minds of humans with the ability to make smartphones, and in that way, He’s responsible. And yes, there’s a deeper truth there about human tendency towards creating and how that reflects the creative aspect of God’s nature.

My point is that it’s easy to think we humans are so clever to have designed this or that new innovation. We look at our own creations and congratulate ourselves.

Look at what God has done. Look at what He still does, every day. That sunset or that sunrise is just one of an infinite number of things God creates every day to display His glory. The way our bodies work is marvelous, and scientists discover new aspects to His design all the time.

Another book I think you should read is by C.S. Lewis, called “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Heck, if I haven’t lost my vision completely by the time you’re born, I’ll read it to you myself. And oh, I can’t do justice to it here, but there’s a place near the end that I love. I’ll only say that when I read this book, I’m not ashamed of my fascination with sunsets, rather encouraged.

I’m looking for a place where I can look at the sun in all its glory, and not look away.

Love, your grandma,

Jo

 

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Letter#2: Very Important Advice

Dear Aglet,

This morning, as I sat drinking the watered-down concoction the cafeteria likes to call coffee, I was struck by this thought, a thought I thought important enough to record here for your sake. Ready, here it is: When I am old, I won’t be young anymore.

I know, I know. Profound. As you read this, I would imagine you are thinking one of two things: either “Wow, Grandma Jo got a lot wiser when she got old,” or the opposite of that. I can read your mind, sonny. “This makes so much sense about how she is now…”

The reason I thought of this is, well, I don’t know what made me starting thinking it. Whatever. I was just thinking that someday I won’t look young like I do now. Old people are pretty in a different sort of way. My friends won’t look young and pretty and handsome either. We’ll all be judged on a different scale–by how we act and whether we have the wisdom of years.

Obviously, your grandma has some growing to do on that last point. Hahaha.

What was I saying? I keep distracting myself with funny thoughts. Will I be like that when you know me, I wonder?

“What is Grandma Jo laughing about?”

“Oh, something she did/said/thought amused her.”

“But it’s been a whole two days since then!!”

I like my sense of humor because it can turn my life into this running sit com, full of mishaps and ridiculous misunderstandings that seem, at the time, world-ending. I get mortified easily, but give me a couple days and I can’t stop laughing about whatever the mortifying thing was.

Like the time I felt called to defend the honor of my father’s mustache. It’s a long story, but it culminated with me half-yelling at the offensive person that, “when he gets to be my dad’s age, his facial hair will probably look bad too!”

It was a terrible comeback, one of my worst yet.

I did eventually apologize, but in the interim I would think about it and just laugh at how ludicrous the whole thing was.

Facial hair (somehow!) reminds me of what I wanted to say in the first place. I wish that people my age could see one another in the future. I think it would give us all a lot more humility if we could a). look in the mirror at our fifty-year-old selves, and b). realize we look no better/worse than any other fifty-year-old.

Future grandmas and future granddads, if they could see each other’s seventy-year-old selves, wouldn’t place as much stock on what their twenty-year-old selves looked like. One of these days, I will not be young, and even when I smile, it won’t look quite the same. Boys will begin balding, and eventually we should probably all stop wearing flip-flops and shorts.

That’s okay.

None of that mattered in the first place. And even though I slip into thinking it matters now, what matters is whether people commit to loving each other beyond years and beyond appearance.

The most beautiful elderly couples I’ve seen aren’t beautiful simply because they’ve stuck together for all these years. The best ones are the ones who still treat each other as if they are precious and beautiful. They were never thinking of their outsides when they fell in love with the beauty of something inward.

Till next time, Aglet.
Your Grandma, Jo.