Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to weep and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3
Felicia was born in Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York in the Spring of 1962. The hospital was not far from the rent-controlled apartment where her father and uncles had been raised by Irene and Joe Brown. Grandma Irene lived in the same apartment for the better part of 50 years. The neighborhood was made up of immigrants, most of them Jewish. Grandma Irene was short in stature, but she had a big heart, she valued tradition, and she was uncommonly wise. There was little need for Irene to leave the neighborhood, her life and her community were there. Both sides of Felicia’s family were faithful practicing Jews. When Felicia was born, she was the first grandchild, a beacon of hope for the future, a child of Jewish traditions, her great-grandfather was a Rabbi.
By the time I came around Grandpa Joe had died, a few more grandchildren had arrived, and Grandma Irene was old but going strong. The firstborn granddaughter was 15 years old, 800 miles from Brooklyn, in the cornfields of Northern Illinois, when she began dating a Lutheran boy from the same high school. Felicia loved her grandmother and in the days before social media she would actually sit down and write her letters, slipping a photo in the envelope from the latest DeKalb High School homecoming or prom dances. Grandma Irene’s response was succinct, “It is nice that you have friends who are Christian.” The word “friends” was not underlined but the message was loud and clear. Grandma Irene, understandably so, wanted her firstborn granddaughter to be married to a nice Jewish boy. It would be quite scandalous in Brooklyn if she were to marry outside of the traditions and bloodlines of Judaism.
After nearly four years of dating, a ring was given and a proposal was accepted, an engagement was announced, and a date was set for a wedding in the summer of 1982 to be held at First Lutheran Church. Though invited to the wedding, Grandma Irene would decline to attend, she informed her granddaughter that instead of attending she would “sit shiva” for Felicia. Shiva is derived from the word “sheva,” which means seven. According to Jewish custom, all mirrors in the apartment would be covered, shoes would not be worn, friends dressed in black would stop by over a seven day period to mourn the death of Irene’s firstborn grandchild. I think that I was too young, to immature to understand the depth of Grandma’s pain, the disappointment that this Lutheran boy had brought upon a good Jewish family was real.
The wedding date came and passed, after a quick honeymoon and Felicia and I were off to Luther Seminary. Grandma Irene invited us to visit her in Brooklyn that next summer. From the moment we arrived I was her new best friend. She made food for me, I would sit at the kitchen table in her tiny apartment and listen to her stories, she fed me some more, and then she started cooking for me again. I like to eat, so we got along fine. One afternoon she called the superintendent to take care of a minor problem, he came right away, and before he left, she gave him some money. I asked, “Why did you pay him, isn’t that what he is supposed to do?” She said, “I did not pay him, I gave him a tip (TIP: To Insure Promptness) the tip was for next time, to make sure he shows up. I may really need him next time.” When our girls started arriving, the next generation of Jewish/Lutheran granddaughters, Grandma Irene did something truly amazing, she left the neighborhood in Brooklyn and crossed the country to visit us in Washington. She loved me like one of her own.
There is a profound wisdom that Grandma Irene imparted to us and modeled for us. I might summarize the lesson this way, “Sit Shiva and get over it.” The love that we have for our children and grandchildren makes us most vulnerable. We are prone to disappointment, grief, maybe even shame. Grandma Irene did everything she could to stop the wedding, to maintain Jewish traditions, to save her granddaughter and perhaps to save face. In the end she could not stop the love story, the loss was great but she would compound the loss by losing her granddaughter altogether. She had a choice, love her granddaughter and accept this Lutheran boy into the family or lose her granddaughter altogether. Grandma Irene would “sit shiva and get over it.”
Sometimes we cannot understand why our children or grandchildren would break from long-held traditions. We may be mystified by gender distinctions, pronoun identification, sexual orientation, religious practices, or political affiliations. Sometimes life just does not play out as we had planned or hoped. If that happens, take a page out of Grandma Irene’s playbook: sit shiva, acknowledge the grief, feel it, take comfort from your friends and family, but then dust yourself off and get over it. Remember, you have loved that child from the day that they were born, and now you will either keep loving them or you will lose them. Your love for that child should not be dependent upon your understanding of their lifestyle choices.
Grandma Irene became my best friend and I have done my best to take care of her granddaughter.
One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I am your
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