Today is the first day since I arrived home that I have ventured out into my community. Moving back Friday was hell, so yesterday I slept and unpacked, and today I got up early and went to church. I have always had a very strange relationship with my church. Personally, I’m not all that religious, but I was raised to be and my church has become something like my second home — the time I have spent in it potentially rivals that of my schools combined. It’s been a place for food, a place for learning, a place for working, and a place for community. Even though I have yet to decide upon a theology, I know I will always feel comfortable in that church.
While I was sitting in church, I thought I saw someone who resembled my eighth grade math teacher, a woman who was very prominent in my church and had taught my Sunday School class for a year, and then I remembered. It couldn’t have been her, because in my absence, she had lost a battle with cancer in her mouth and had passed away. I nearly cried right there in church because I couldn’t believe it had slipped my mind. I never realized how used I was to seeing her there in the front rows of the church and I couldn’t believe how much of an empty space she left. She seemed to have been always there in the background of my church community and now she was gone. I had heard about her death over Facebook, and my mom had sent me an email, but it had never quite sunk in until I noticed her absence in church this morning. I still can’t quite believe that she won’t ever be there again.
Maybe this is why young people feel such an urge to separate themselves from the societies they grew up in, a society that is growing old and ill and passing away, one person at a time. Young people are ready to start fresh, new lives, surrounded by exploration and discovery and the miracle of birth and they hardly have the strength to deal with the consequences of the passage of time. I always used to look down upon those who stayed in their sheltered communities of childhood, but I guess the stronger person would be the one who can build a new life for themselves surrounded by their aging childhood society. That isn’t to say some don’t stick around their hometowns out of laziness, but those who live at home with their parents until middle age are not the same as those nearly mythological upstanding youths who are able to thrive in their hometowns as adults. Those are the strong young people I am talking about.
My father’s mother and father have lived next door to us since I was about twelve, which turned my teenage years into a slightly less obnoxious small-town version of Everybody Loves Raymond. My senior year of high school, my grandfather began having serious health complications related to Parkinson’s, complications that have grown so serious we are not certain how much time he has left. Recently I noticed my cousins (who are, on average, about a decade older than I ) have been keeping a safe distance from the entire situation. I’m not calling them out because I’ve been doing the exact same thing. What can I say? I’ve been very supportive of my parents, but I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with this situation directly. I have so much to think about concerning my future that I am just not strong enough to handle my grandfather’s potential passing.
This running-away from our families to start a new life is a relatively new Western introduction. Children used to have to stay close to their families because very few of them could afford to move elsewhere, and even if they could, their families needed them to stick around. It was a much different atmosphere. Family units stuck together. Now they are fractured all over the world. When things get hairy back home we have so many options available to us to comfort from afar. We can fly to a funeral and be sleeping in our own beds with relative peace of mind within a week’s span. We can discuss our parents’ finances with our siblings on the phone during the day, then kick back at night in our favorite coffee houses or bars to relieve the stress. Would we be able to cope half as well if we were to return one day and discover a favorite relative (or Sunday School teacher) has passed away? Or if we were to receive a letter bearing news of a death but were unable to visit and grieve with our family? What if we had to sit there and watch while a grandfather slowly lost control of his mental faculties? I doubt that when faced with that sort of emotional stress I would be strong enough to look forward to my new life.
Thank God for distance. I almost wish I were strong enough to be here for my family and also work to build my own future family, but then I realize that I should feel blessed to be able to move and start from scratch. Family is important to me, but it’s not my job right now. Right now, my job is to work hard so I can have children one day who I can teach these life lessons my grandfather (and my late Sunday School teacher) are indirectly teaching me right now.