Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Dust on My Shoes

On my flight home, from California to Indiana, I glanced down at my shoes.  They were dusty.  Against the black of my Nike running shoes, the dust stood out.  I wondered why I hadn't noticed the dust before traveling in such dirty shoes.  And then I realized that the dust, was from the hours I had spent cleaning at my grandparents' house over the course of the previous four days.  And I decided that the dust could stay.  Sooner or later the dust will be mixed with my Midwest mud, or washed off as I run through a rainstorm.  But, for now, I had no desire to "shake the dust off my boots."

It has taken me a lot of time, to be able to put my thoughts together and write about the last five days.  And there is still too much for me to put in one blog post.  There is still too much for me to put words to at all.  It was a physically and emotionally exhausting few days.  But, I am so glad I was there.

At the memorial service, for my grandfather, I read parts of what my dad had written, about his father.  And I shared a few of my own memories.  And I also listen to my brother recount some of the many things that that he shared with my grandfather.  I couldn't make it through without tears.  But, I hope that what I said, was said well enough to honor my grandfather and my own father.

After the service, it became very apparent that although many people knew my grandpa, not very many people really knew him.  I don't know if I really knew him.  He was a quiet, private kind of guy.  And as he got older, he got quieter, and more private.  I think that many people were surprised by the perspective that my brother and I shared, the perspective that we were privileged to have, the memories that we have of a kind, patient, highly intelligent and curious man, who also had a great sense of humor.  At first, it made me sad, that so many people didn't really know that much about him.  And then, I realized that our legacy is not about how many people know us, but about how the people who really know us, remember us.


When I looked at my shoes and I saw the dust, it was the dust of cleaning an old house filled with "stuff."  Most of the stuff was obvious trash: the collections of plastic bags, the bags of junk mail, the disintegrating boxes of magazines.  But, a lot of the stuff wasn't so easy to throw away.  My grandparents' primary means of communication over the last 10 years or so was via handwritten notes.  There were notes everywhere.  At first I couldn't bring myself to throw them away.  And then, I realized that we had to, there were too many to save.  I think we read almost every one of the notes though, before putting them in the recycling box.  They were glimpses of their life, their daily to do lists, questions about dinner, requests to clean up the clutter.  I felt like I was throwing their life away, day by day, note by note.

We also found sentimental items, old toys, books, Dodger memorabilia, my grandpa's violin that was probably made in the late 1800's, stacks of date books and calendars going back years and years with all their important dates written in, some things that might have a monetary value, but mostly items that have an emotional value.  We asked a lot of questions about what to keep and what was not worth saving.  Really, all this "stuff" still belongs to my grandmother.  But, I think she is putting much of that "stuff" behind her.  Although, she does really seem to want the old couch, with the springs popping out the bottom, for her new place.  Why does she want this couch?  Why do we hold on to much of the "stuff" in our lives?  Sometimes the answers aren't as easy as a "keep pile" a "recycling pile" and a "trash pile."


I found myself alone, on Saturday evening, trying to at least finish the monumental task of the living room before heading back to my parents' house.  It was at this point that it all became too much.  I couldn't throw anything away any more.  The tears came instead as the memories flooded.  When I walked in, the house smelled just the way I remembered, and it may have been close to twenty years since I had been back in their house.  But it wasn't just the memories, it was the idea that all this stuff and all this dust was representing my grandparents' life.  For better or for worse, the stuff was a part of who they were, and the life they made.  And now one of them is gone.  And my grandma doesn't need all the stuff.  And the stuff can't stay where it is.  But, as my dad also wrote "Letting Go is the Hard Part."

The title of this post came first.  Sometimes the post comes first.  But, this time it was the title.  And the title reminds me that 'all we are is dust in the wind.'  My grandpa will be cremated, probably sometime this week or the next.  And he, quicker than most, but just like all who pass away, will be just dust.  "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."  I can't stop life from rolling on.  But, for now, the dust on my shoes stays put.

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