The Gift of Presence…

There’s a faithfulness in presence. On the other side of my Grandma Thelma’s kitchen, and the table she always seemed to have prepared, sat Grandpa Ray in his screened back porch. No matter when we’d arrive for a visit, there he’d be in his chair, calmly smoking his pipe, ever composed and even-keeled. He never seemed caught off guard: throughout each day until supper and sunset, there he remained sentinel, regardless of what moved around him. He wasn’t an excitable man, and despite having spent his life as a barber, he wasn’t a talkative one. Even as a child, I wondered why he held himself aloof, always a bit removed even from those he loved most. I still know relatively little about his life, beyond the fact that he married my grandma when my dad was in high school, after my dad’s biological father had passed away. Grandpa Ray was the only paternal grandfather I knew, and though he never said he word, I knew he adored us. He  died soon after Grandma passed, so in my mind and in that reality, he was always with her.
Though I never understood his cautious engagement with life and people, I think it was through him that I first learned that presence itself is a gift. Grandpa Ray was an observer of the quiet and beauty around him, enjoying his vantage point of the lane through the apple orchard and the bluff of southwestern Wisconsin. More than that, he regarded relationships and life with acceptance and wisdom. On the rare occasion where he would choose to comment, it was clear he’d been paying attention all along, and his voice was respected. “[His] good opinion [was] rarely bestowed, and therefore more worth the earning” (Austen, Jane. Pride & Prejudice). Though he was a man of few words, on the rare occasion he was out of the house, it felt rather empty without him. By the time I knew him, and perhaps before, he’d realized he could do little to control life, little he could understand of it. Still, he faithfully offered his attendance, and stood beside us all; his was the faithful gift of presence.

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