It doesn’t happen often, but I migrated south and am sitting here near Tampa, typing on my Grandparent’s couch. Here, with the forest green carpet and mint green walls, the cookies in Tupperware on the dining room buffet. Here, with the photo albums stocked with memories—their years of travels to Japan. Here, with the late-night talks and long, heavy laughs.
We visited an assisted living facility, and I have a newfound sympathy for the elderly. The way age and frailty strip away dignity, subtle and slow. Age is the gift of the obedient but the curse of the fall. And this visit has surfaced so many feelings.
Yet, we laugh so much here.
The five of us sat at the table, leaning forward and back on the creaking chairs as we swayed with laughter. Grandma talked with her hands, jumping into a story about how calm, quiet Great Aunt Marg had run down the hospital halls behind the gurney, yelling out her mother’s wish: “Don’t resuscitate her! Do not resuscitate her!” Her mother being wheeled fast away after a stroke. And we laughed at the ridiculousness of it. The picture it must have presented. (Her mother was, indeed, resuscitated and lived past the stroke.) We chuckled and talked over the silly memory. Then grandma spread out her hands and said, “Sometimes you just have to laugh, so you don’t cry.”
And I’m struck, sitting there, with the way we humans are so many things at once.
Sometimes, when we see these layers of ourselves, we call them contradictions. How, when sorrow presses too far and hard, we burst out laughing. Lightness swiftly switching places with the heaviness. It’s a gift, this contradictory nature.
I’ve belted out laughter here more than the rest of the year’s months combined, I think. We all wiping tears of joy away as we strive to catch our breath. Regaling old stories that make us roll. For the most part, we’ve tucked away phones and laptops and seated chairs in a circle so we can all share smiles and take time to really see each other, sweetly treasuring the faces we see too little.
The hard moments are dust on the bookshelves, realities sitting there atop the treasures.
The other night, grandpa stood across from me with his kind blue eyes, an arm casually resting on the kitchen counter. I stood there smiling, thinking how softly age had smoothed his features. And then, in a moment—and just for a time—he forgot me. Mistook me for someone else. My brow furrowed and his did too, us trying to understand what was happening. And then he felt bad. And I felt bad that he felt bad. Because he shouldn’t have. Had no cause to. It’s not his fault his mind is slipping away—like grasping water. I hold my mouth firm at the tears that jump to my eyes, pressing the sorrow away. Smiling. “It’s okay, grandpa.” I press my hand to his shoulder.
He tells me the history of his work in ministry—including the host of ministries he attended and the many churches he pastored—and then grandma, half-sleeping on the couch, peeks open her eyes. She grins, “you got some facts mixed up, but you got the gist.”
These memories, particularly, have curated in me a gratefulness for contradictions. There’s something healthy and whole about being contradictory and multifaceted. The way we have the capacity to feel so many things. And the way the heaviest stories can be delivered with laughter—us knowing the pain, but understanding the humor.
All this to say, don’t let the contradictions surprise you (either in others or in yourself). I once thought it odd to find such inconsistent tendencies within myself. But I know better now.