We were out of town at a family wedding two Aprils ago, getting ready in the hotel room, when I heard the knock. I’m sure I was in my robe, curling my hair or something. My husband let my grandfather in, and I could tell right away Papa meant business. He started moving furniture (89 years old, post-back surgery) and set up a little conference area by the window. He tapped the small side table he’d set up between two chairs, a signal I’d long ago learned meant that I was to sit down. This was to be was a legacy talk, the kind that outlasts him.
You see, my grandfather is pretty healthy. He’s overcome war and illness and injury and still lives independently, with my grandmother. He still attends church and works his land and exercises regularly and tutors kids at the nearby middle school. He’s got that vitality life on lockdown.
But my grandfather is fascinated with his mortality. Ever since I could remember, he’s been happy to discuss his final arrangements with anyone who will listen. Over the last several years, though, he’s become very focused on his legacy. What will they remember me by? Do they understand what I believe? Do they feel what I feel? Will they keep what I share?
And so we have these talks. Sometimes they’re back-to-back, and sometimes a few years passes between. Once, when a boy asked me for a kiss on a camping trip, Papa overheard. He called me into the camper, literally packed the place up and changed campsites, and had me draw a pie chart about the whole thing on the trip home. He named it our “I-85 conversation.” Needless to say, my first kiss did not happen for years.
Before the weekend of the family wedding, I’d never pushed back on Papa’s viewpoints. Usually, I took notes and kept my mouth shut. I’ve always been here to receive. My grandfather is the wisest man I’ve ever known, and never had it crossed my mind that I’d challenge and stretch and grow him like he had done me.
Until the talk that weekend. Election drama was heating up, Donald Trump was headed to our family party’s national convention, and Papa was unsettled about the direction of our country. He asked me to write two words on a piece of paper. Truth, and Righteousness. Don’t forget the capital letters at the beginning. And then he pointed at the words scrawled across the hotel stationary, with that arthritic finger of his. Those are the only two things I want to live by for the rest of my life.
As he unfolded his argument, I felt the Holy Spirit hover between us. This man with whom I share blood, and a love for Jesus, was suddenly on the very opposite side of the very small table that very much filled the room. I did not agree with my beloved Papa, and I was about to go there.
I don’t know, Papa. I don’t think I see it that way.
He paused. He smiled, eyes glistening. He cocked his head, hearing aids tilted it in prime position. And he invited me in. So I went there.
I only see one word with a capital letter in Scripture. Love. I see Jesus caring about truth and righteousness, but I see him repeating over and over that our only job is to love people. I believe that it’s dangerous to plant a flag on any argument other than one that aggressively, unconditionally, loves people like our Savior did. I believe that there are lot of tenants that sort of just naturally flow out of our focus on the one commandment – Love. With a capital. Love is what I want to live by for the rest of my life. I asked him to dig through the Bible and ask God what he thought. I think love has to go first.
He told me I’d given him a lot to think about. We’ve never revisited the conversation. But in the last two years, I’ve watched a 91 year-old man attack the life he has left with a renewed sense of vigor. Dripping with Love. With a capital letter.