Betty Duffy

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Soul Staked Out

The charming brunette with the gummy smile shown above, is currently in the process of dying. She is 96 years old, and when we show her the pictures of her and grandpa taken in a photo booth when they were engaged, she says, "Who are those people? They look like they're having such a good time." She was twenty-four when they married, and 87 when Grandpa died.

Grandma has been losing her memory for years now. The loss of memory moves backwards through time, so that recent memories disappear first, and childhood becomes more succinct. My father becomes her brother, and those of us born in the later half of her life require a re-introduction. It seems fitting that the woman nicknamed, “Girl” would spend her waning years living in the memories of her childhood. A girlish innocence, joyfulness, and love for ice-cream have accompanied her through life from the beginning all the way to this near end.

Grandma and Grandpa converted to Catholicism shortly before Grandpa died, which means that her conversion is on the long list of things Grandma has likely forgotten. My Aunt ensures that she receives the Eucharist whenever possible, but I wonder if she remembers why.

One of my favorite bloggers, Pentimento, in a recent post discusses how life, for a convert is seemingly divided at the point of conversion. The convert puts on the new man in Christ, and the old life is left behind. My Grandmother’s experience cannot fit into this model. She lived a vast majority of her life prior to conversion, and now, the “old man” is all she has. As Pentimento writes, thinking of time in a non-linear fashion puts my Grandmother’s conversion into a more palatable context.

“I think in fact that time travel is the main theme of my writing here -- the notion of a continual traveling back and forth between the past and the present, and the implications of such journeying. As Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." This is a tricky conundrum for the convert: without the suffering and sin of the past, there would have been no conversion (as the "Exsultet" sung at the Easter Vigil says, "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer"), but in embarking upon a new life we would like to travel as lightly as possible, leaving much of the past behind. I think perhaps the main themes of this blog are 1) the fact that such leaving-behind is not possible, and 2) my struggles to weave the past into my present and future in a way that will not degrade or undermine any of these three states -- states which, if you accept the proposition that time is non-linear, can sometimes seem arbitrarily defined.”

My grandmother was protected by the moral conventions of culture, and by her family from living a life of sin. I’m not sure that her conversion was the outcome of a great fall, but rather a lifelong journey and adjustment to Great Truths. And I know that stories of a Grandmother’s youth can take on a mythical status for her descendants, but I tend to think of her past as golden, perhaps kept and protected from darkness by the faith she would ultimately receive.

If God chooses us, rather than the opposite, then my Grandmother is an example of the soul staked out for God. She was anointed, receiving the indelible mark on her soul that names her a member of the Body of Christ in her old age, but in a non-linear fashion, every part of her life has been redeemed.


TheSeeker said...

I love that God and our Christian/Catholic life transcends time, which seems so important to us. Beautiful.

I'm sorry your grandmother is struggling though. May you all have peace. <3

Anonymous said...

"I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten," Joel 2:25.

My sympathies on your impending loss.


Pentimento said...

A beautiful post. May you know how close God is to her and to you now.

And thanks for the shout-out.

Otepoti, did you quote Joel in my combox too, once, long ago?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did. It offers comfort to all those who are tormented by regrets, i.e. everyone except Christ Himself.