Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Grandmother's Words


     Fairly recently, I listened to a Fresh Air interview with John Mellencamp by Terry Gross. I’ve never followed Mr. Mellencamp’s music very closely but I certainly will be making up for lost time after listening to this interview. Unlike some of our popular musicians, he has made a wonderful transition into his 50’s. He no longer holds up the iconic image of youth and teenage angst as some cultural ideal. He talks with wisdom and a respect for life.

The part of the interview, that struck me most, was when he spoke of his grandmother’s words as being the inspiration for the following song Longest Days:

Seems like once upon a time ago
I was where I was supposed to be
My vision was true and my heart was too
There was no end to what I could dream
I walked like a hero into the setting sun
Everyone called out my name
Death to me was just a mystery
I was too busy raising up Cain

But nothing lasts forever
Your best efforts don't always pay
Sometimes you get sick
And don't get better
That's when life is short
Even in its longest days

So you pretend not to notice
That everything has changed
The way that you look
And the friends you once had
So you keep on acting the same
But deep down in your soul
You know you, you got no flame
And who knows then which way to go
Life is short even in its longest days

All I got here
Is a rear view mirror
Reflections of where I've been
So you tell yourself I'll be back up on top some day
But you know there's nothing waiting up there for you anyway

Nothing lasts forever
And your best efforts don't always pay
Sometimes you get sick
And you don't get better
That's when life is short
Even in its longest days

Life is short
Even in its longest days

     The song so poignantly describes the cycle of life, and the reflective process our autumnal years bring. Also, underlying these words, is his real respect and gratitude for his grandmother. In the interview, he describes the incident that inspired the song. He had gone to visit his grandmother who lived to be 100 years old. She had always been quite healthy but when she reached 100 she began to get some dementia. He used to visit her in the afternoon, and she would ask him (she called him Buddy) to lie down beside her as she rested. While they were lying there she said, "Let's pray." Her grandson agreed, and she said "God, you know, Buddy and I are ready to come home." Mr. Mellencamp laughed when recalling this, and remembered that he responded "Whoa. Wait a minute Grandma. You're ready to come home. Buddy's only 45. He's not ready." She then turned and looked him right in the face, suddenly looking like a little girl, and says: "Buddy, life is short even on it's longest days."

     His story describes such a beautiful intimacy between a grandmother and her grandchild. He carried her words in his heart, and it still informs, and carries him throughout his creative process, and his journey through life. It got me to wondering which of my words will be remembered by my children and grandchildren. Will they think of me as kind and wise? It is not for me that I wonder, but there's a growing longing to leave them with wisdom and humor. That is the only thing that makes separation from our loved ones bearable. There is no escaping that final day where all that we've loved, and clung to, will be taken away.

     I remember my own grandmother. Her consistent humor, and vulnerability has carried me throughout my life. She wasn't perfect but she loved me unconditionally, and even when I got the occasional perfunctory spanking from her, I never doubted it. It's a mystery, but I never felt unloved by her for even when she made a mistake, I understood there was love behind it. Her words come to mind now and then, I remember one day when I was complaining that I wasn't as pretty as so and so, she simply said: "You're always going to come up short if you compare yourself to other people. Just be the best you can be."At the time her words weren't very consoling but it planted a seed in me to understand myself rather than measure my self worth by comparing myself to others. It's taken me awhile to appreciate her words, but still they stay with me, as do the words of other wise elders I've met. There are so many things that have been said to me that have stayed with me to both haunt me, and  guide me throughout my life.

      I wrote a lot of this blog entry a couple of months ago, but the question of what words I wanted to leave my grandchildren with has really been pressing to me. I even made a few changes in my life to help me restore some integrity to my word. I began the process of fulfilling a life long dream of writing a book for children. I started brushing off the dust on my books on spirituality, and actually take time to read them every day. I started eating better, and I even got a life coach to help me keep on track with some of my goals. 

      There is an urgency to writing this blog, a need to express  gratitude for all I have been given. So much of my life has been spent feeling sorry or bad about the content of my life, that somehow, the gifts of having a "normal life" had passed me by, and that I would never measure up to my more successful friends. I now see that it has all been a perfect reflection showing me what I needed to learn. I have a growing appreciation for all those around me, even those who test my limits, and "bring out my Irish". I will remember John Mellencamp's grandmother's words: " is short in its longest days." but I want to hear them without fear and regret. I also want to honor my own grandmother's words to "be the best I can be." but even more pressing is to be rested in what is true and real so when that final day comes that there is the ability to do so with humor, clarity, and gratitude.

If you'd like to hear more of John Mellencamp's interview with Terry Gross go to:



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I'm a mother, and a grandmother. 

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