Good news is something we’re all searching for today, high and low. Yesterday was a rough day in the news, and as usually happens when something tragic and horrible takes place, the tragic bombing yesterday at the Boston Marathon got me thinking about my life in a philosophical way. As I tucked my little son Charming into bed last night, I tried to refrain from weeping as I repeated to him the words another mother, Mister Fred Rogers’ told him when he was fearful,
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Charming in turn thought about all the good and helpful things people had done in Boston, and all over the globe during the tragedy of the day, repeating them to me one at a time as he drifted off to sleep. In the end his little worried mind was too much to handle and he found himself tossing and turning, restlessly fighting for slumber. We bantered quietly across the hallway separating our bedrooms as I tried to comfort him for the better part of an hour when finally I called out for him to come tuck himself in bed next to me, to find solace in the crook of my familiar, comforting, warm body.
As he snuggled into my arms, smelling of chlorine and little boy, he sleepily he whispered to me, “I tried all my tricks to fall asleep except the one that always works, snuggling with my mama.”
He was asleep in seconds.
As I carried a sleeping Charming back to his own room a few hours later, I found myself searching for my own dose of comfort. I thought about my favorite grandmother and what she would have said to me as I struggled to make sense of sadness of the day. My good, dear grandmother lived nearly a century, gracefully enduring some of the worst times in recent history with aplomb, and though she was as snarky and ornery as the rest of us, she was good and smart and kind, and always knew what to say when things were rough, which was often:
Don’t worry love, this too shall pass.
Grandma grew up in Oakland, California where her family settled after leaving Iowa on a 6-day train ride across the country with little more than a basket of home fried chicken and some personal belongings in search of a better future. She and her sister Alice narrowly survived the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed almost everyone they knew, sending her into such shock she ended up in a yearlong depression, temporarily sidelining her college dreams. She put herself through nursing school in San Francisco, persistently hungry without a penny in her pocket, where she was incessantly belittled by the chauvinist doctors at the hospital where she washed, nursed, and cared for patients all day before walking home each night. Grandma watched helplessly as her favorite weekend dance partners headed across the ocean to fight and die in World War I, then fell in love with and married my grandfather with whom she bore four and lost two children.
Being married to one of the two founders of the engineering program at B.Y.U., grandma entertained university presidents and deans of various colleges while single-handedly mothering, advising, and feeding half the neighborhood strays and homesick international students of my grandfather’s at the university. And while World War II waged on, taking grandpa far across the globe as a sought after civil engineer, grandma was once again left at home to pick up the pieces with little more support than long-distance love letters from my grandfather.
The Korean war came and went, then Vietnam, for which her youngest son and all the neighborhood boys she’d raised enlisted together, and many of whom never came home. In the middle of the Vietnam War, grandma decided to finish the one thing she’d always regretted leaving, and enrolled at B.Y.U. to finish college right along with her youngest child, my mother. She continued to feed, counsel, nourish, and mother all the forgotten children in her path, studying and writing for college tests and papers in-between working night shifts as a nurse at the state mental hospital and university classes all day. Eventually grandma graduated from B.Y.U. along with my mother, and a full head of white hair, at the age of 56. She had terrific grades and was accepted into a good graduate school program but was talked out of it by a friend, which she always regretted.
From her 60’s through her early 90’s my grandmother was as much a mother to me as my own, and took care of and had a prominent role in the lives of her children and grandchildren. Grandma made her corner of the world a warm and safe abode for the lonely and downtrodden while she watched the world wage senseless war, after war, after war. And on September 11, 2001, three months before her death, my grandmother watched on with sad, sage eyes as the twin towers burned to the ground. It was almost more than even she could take.
But time and again, regardless of my personal heartbreak and that of the world, with great kindness grandma would always repeat to me, without irony:
Don’t worry love, this too shall pass.
And so as I tuck my small people into bed tonight, trying to assure them of their safety in this terrifying world, I will whisper into their tender little ears the words of my beloved grandmother with some added wisdom of my own,