This quote is arguably one of the most beautiful and poignant lines in all of the English language, which is one of the reasons I selected it for my next blog post! Each word is powerful and meaningful to the point that you can really feel what the author is feeling, which is something that all authors strive for. This book, a 2005 New York Times Bestseller (among its other accolades), follows the journey of a young boy struggling to find meaning and closure after his father’s death in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The whole novel is deeply moving and inspiring, and if you have never read it, I highly suggest that you pick up a copy like, yesterday. For those of you who prefer “the movie version” (not something I condone, but to each their own), there was a 2012 film adaptation of the novel that features a star-studded cast.
This quote, and the story behind it, really stood out to me as I was searching for ideas for this post. I have always connected with that line in particular, I would say because I’m a Gemini and am interested in literally EVERYTHING, and I often despair at the fact that I just don’t have the time to try everything this life has to offer. If it were up to me, I’d learn ballet, the trumpet, how to make homemade candles, paint a Bob Ross, explore Western Europe, sew a quilt and master some of the most difficult poses yoga has to offer, all before next Wednesday.
More than that, not unlike the protagonist in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I recently lost a father figure. My grandfather passed away in early December, less than a month before my son, his great-grandson, was born. The two of them never got to meet, which is something I have yet to come to terms with, as my grandfather and I were “incredibly close.” I was the apple of his eye, and his death has left a gaping whole in my heart.
When a loved one dies, it really makes you reflect on life and what it means. What denotes a life well-lived? Well, what I’ve decided is that your level of success in life is directly correlated to the love that you leave behind. The only thing that has given me comfort in the wake of my grandfather’s death is knowing that he loved me more than anything, and there was nothing more he could have said or done that could have made me feel more loved. That has given me a kind of closure, though I know that grief is an ongoing process and my heart will never be quite the same.
My grandfather left behind not only an incredible love for me that transcends time and space, but also for my grandmother, his wife of 50+ years, my mother, my uncle and his children, his two great-grandchildren, and anyone else he ever came in contact with. After he died, my mother’s Facebook post in memory of him garnered HUNDREDS of likes and comments. Hundreds of people shared with us their stories of him: how funny he was, how kind he was, how he helped them out when they were down and out, and how he made them feel special and loved.
Just recently, my grandmother got a certificate from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in the mail with his name on it. He had silently donated to them for years without any of us but my grandmother ever knowing. He had sponsored a child who had been cured of cancer.
At the end of the day and at the end of our lives, it is the kindness and love we leave behind that matters. The love that we leave behind is what makes us immortal. It’s not how many things we crossed off of our bucket lists. My grandfather lived a pretty humble life. He didn’t travel the world, or learn how to make candles or do yoga or write a bestseller or anything extra-ordinary. What I will always remember about him is not what he was good at or what he accomplished, but how loved he made me feel.
So, this is just a little reminder for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by their to-do list, or their bucket list, or their grocery list, for that matter: slow down. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And, in the end, all that really matters is that we have lived a life full of love and laughter. The love that we give is what will resonate throughout the universe for the rest of eternity, not that new skill we picked up just to say that we did (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with learning new things)! Just don’t cave under the pressure of your own expectations. Love really is all you need.
Below is the last picture taken of my grandfather. He is touching my pregnant tummy the night before he died. THIS is the stuff that matters, folks.