Being ourselves, together

Katharine Tynan writes in her poem Slow Spring,

O year, grow slowly. Exquisite, holy,
The days go on
With almonds showing the pink stars blowing,
And birds in the dawn.

“O year, grow slowly. Exquisite, holy…” The idea that taking our time, or going slowly, is somehow connected to things around us or within us becoming exquisite or “holy” is common in a good deal of poetry and theology. And when I think of my Grandad one of the most pressing images is that of someone who took his time.

I think of a man who took daily walks for the paper; who routinely went on extensive caravan trips around the British countryside; who took long flights to take even longer trips into the Canadian Rockies and Coastal mountain ranges in a wood-panelled station wagon with our family; and I think of a man who looked after gardens which produced the kind of goodness and beauty that’s only made possible by careful attention and patience, season after season, decade after decade.

Of course, we could argue that these are not particular activities to my Grandad, that these are generational trends and just what people of that time did and do. But though my Grandad and Grandma’s interests may not have been entirely unique to them, that doesn’t make the results, lessons and joys of a time-taking life any less profound. In fact, the shared experience of a walk, a trip, or time in the garden is made more profound because these are the kinds of actives we can share together. They reflect a sort of passed-on life we’re connected through over the years, even the centuries, as persons, friends and families.

I have to believe that my Grandad’s interest in time-taking not only says something about who he was, but also something about who he was becoming his entire life. I believe that his and my Grandma’s interest in this kind of a time-taking life has therefore shaped many they encountered, some rather dramatically. For their children and grandchildren, I think of what we enjoy doing, what fills us with gratitude and satisfaction. I can see time-taking everywhere when think of my family. And that is because who we are becoming is always connected with who others are becoming.

My father recently told me that he’s increasingly aware of who he is and is becoming, and how that has been deeply shaped by his father. We are shaped by one another more than we know and grow into that understanding the older we get. In many ways, though not all, we are what has been passed down to us.

We hear a lot about “being yourself” today and the prizing of an extreme individualism. But an overemphasis on individualism might not only make us more distinct, but also more disconnected. Recently some have been calling us away from thinking of ourselves too much as individuals and more so as persons. Persons are unique and deeply connected. If we’re to help create a better future we need to both be ourselves and love one another enough to let our preferences and selfishness take a back seat to the communal realities of personhood. So, by remembering that we are what has been passed down to us we rebel against narrow individualism and embrace better thinking toward personhood. Our grandparents’ generation understood the power of togetherness that we can still learn from in a time when we’re all so interested in being a “true individual”. Though our generation has embraced a narrative of “uniqueness” (and well we should), running wild with that story lands us in isolated places. We need to find ways of being ourselves, together.

As I reflect on my Grandad’s life, I’m incredibly grateful. I’m grateful for what he passed down to me through my parents, and what will be passed down through me to my children. So even though I’m grieving his loss, I’m also filled with a good deal of joy and gratitudeI’m so very thankful for the rhythms and ways of being that have been passed on to me, and enjoy the benefits of things like time taking in my own life because of that legacy.

So I’m going to keep making room for walks and trips and time in nature. I’m going to keep making room for family and simple things. And when I do I’ll remember my Grandad and his life, and wonder if he had the same kinds of thoughts and feelings I do when I’m taking time. I’m going to pray that I might, “Grow slowly. Exquisite, holy…”  and let my Grandad’s legacy work it’s way through somehow into mine.