Tuesday, October 11, 2011

remembering nonie: five years later

Still working on that book TK gave me.

Today’s exercise: Think about someone you have known who exemplifies genuine purity and humility, selflessness, freedom from rage and depression.

Honestly, there could not have been a better description of my grandmother, Nonie. It’s hard to believe that she’s been gone from us for five years.

Even as children, my cousins and I recognized that Nonie was not like other people. She didn’t yell. She did not boast. She never judged. While she was a Christian, she never felt it was her calling to preach religion – instead she lived the Gospel. She glorified God by loving. Loving. And loving.

Usually such folks have none of the Christian “celebrity” trappings about them. They are often overlooked.

Five years ago this week, I made my last visit to Nonie’s one-bedroom apartment in Yonkers. We were going through her stuff, the treasures accumulated over 96 years. There was no will. No savings account. No degrees hanging on the wall. There was no gold or silver, not even a rare coin. No car parked outside.

Her apartment smelled of memories. Photos. $5 keepsakes (or nooks, as we call them). Letters from friends and family members who lived an ocean away. Notes of appreciation. Certificates of recognition from the local soup kitchen, the senior center and other charitable organizations where she volunteered selflessly long into her life.

Looking back, I think it’s amazing that she left her family when she was 16, travelled alone to a distant land, and didn’t make it “home” until 40 years later; and yet – as I had the joy of visiting Ireland once with her – she was as close to her sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews as someone who lived down the block her entire life. For when she could not visit, she called. When she could not call, she wrote. And when she could not write, she prayed. Community. Relationships. People. Family. Friends. God. These are the investments my grandmother treasured.

They are not living on the same terms as the general culture, and so others might find this confusing.

Living for nearly century, Nonie witnessed the birth of flight, cars that rolled off assembly lines, innovations in radio, television and yes, even the iMac and the Internet. (Television, by the way, was the invention she felt most changed the world in her lifetime).

She also witnessed war on a world-wide scale (more than once) and watched as they buried her parents, her brother and sisters, her life-long love Joseph and her children Robert, Mary and Jimmy.

She laughed. She cried. She took joy in winning at cards (and losing, too). She woke up one day and decided to stop smoking—and never had another cigarette. She was a woman of incredible strength. And character. And consistency. In some ways, Nonie was predictable because she was Nonie all the time.

Growing up, I can’t say that I modeled my life after Nonie. There were degrees to get. Jobs to succeed in. Stuff to accumulate. Why would I want to love others when I could live for myself?

But it’s not too late. There is someone I can call today. I can stop to help a stranger. Right a wrong. Hold my judgment. Smile. And smile again. For what better day to honor my grandmother than to imitate her – the one who exemplifies genuine purity and humility, selflessness, freedom from rage and depression.

Five years later Nonie, and you are still changing the world. God bless.


Kansas Bob said...

What a sweet remembrance Ed! Thanks so much for sharing!

Erin Wilson said...

This is such a beautiful post, Ed. I've read it a few times, and finally stopped in to tell you.