My grandfather was dying.
He had been for years, really. He got sick at about sixty and stayed that way for the next twenty.
My dad, one of eight children, went to his side. My grandfather was in and out of consciousness, so there was not much conversation.
After some time, my dad went to leave. But first my grandfather grabbed his wrist with his bony arm.
“[My dad’s first name],” he said. “You’re a great man.”
The word “great” implies a certain context. It’s larger, longer. The reason that jokes like “Yes, this will go down as one of the great sandwiches of history” are funny is because “history” implies hundreds or thousands of years, which is not a sandwich-friendly timescale.
Religion is often referred to as a “faith,” but it is, additionally, a work. People talk about “God’s plan for my life,” but: do God’s designs start at birth and end at death, like millions of unconnected, episodic TV shows? Surely divinity is capable of a grander design. Perhaps God isn’t really concerned with your life in particular at the moment: are you (and am I?) doing your part to fulfill His plan for someone else’s life?
To be religious is to be a foot-soldier; to be committed to a cause larger than oneself.
I am fortunate beyond measure. In the late nineteenth century my great-great-grandfather left his homeland for his religion—four generations later, I can think of him, and everyone in between, cheering me on. We are, and have always been, on the same side.
It is fun, and easy, to indulge one’s pride over lip-service to a cause; fun can be and is made of this in media with priggish types protesting that “My family has ______ for generations!” But when you actually believe it, you start to wonder: do I measure up? Were I to die, could I do it with the serenity of Theoden?
This is the context in which my grandpa grabbed my dad’s wrist and told him that he was a great man.
A kinder deed, I have trouble imagining.