You don't have to know someone well to love them.
As I drive home in a hurry after work, I feel a vibration in my pocket and hear a familiar ring.
“Justin?” My grandfather's voice has remained unchanged over the years, the same voice I used to hear as he took me for rides on his lawn mower. Sometimes, he'd let me steer.
“Hi Grandpa, how are you?”
This is no idle pleasantry - his life has been a constant battle with health problems, especially those cardiovascular in nature. He's had two quadruple bypasses, and the doctors refuse to do another because half his heart is slowly dying. Once in a while, he reports chest pains and scares our family, but so far he keeps hanging on. Recently he was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. This seemingly bad news has turned out to be a blessing; his prescribed diet changes resulted in moderate weight loss and more energy.
Behind his back I speak with my parents about the consequences of eating a diet high in cholesterol for decades, but I don't mention it to him. Time now is too precious and such decisions have already been made. Better now, I judge, to spend what time we have left together.
“I'm pretty good,” his response is honest; he would tell me if something was wrong. At least, I think he would. “Are you going to come catch the game tonight?”
Sometimes I have a hard time relating to him. We're from very different worlds. Clarkston, Utah is his home town, a place where Main Street and 1st Street have a yield sign and cows healthily out number people. He made his living on the farm, dropping out of high school and working his way up in the business of cows, milk, and cheese. That world is as foreign as the Middle East to me; we really don't have much to talk about. Sports, however, are an interest for both of us, and now the Jazz are in the playoffs.
“Absolutely. Should I bring anything?”
“No, I'll have burgers for you.”
“You spoil me, Grandpa.”
“That's a grandfather's privilege.”
That's the typical length of our conversations: now the game is on. We don't say much for the rest of the night. His new TV shows us basketball in high definition.
During halftime, timeouts, and injury attorney commercials, he gives me glimpses of his life. When they were young adults, my grandmother worked at a local diner, and he used to go there just to see her. One time, while his dad was gone, he stole the horse for a few hours and won a race among the neighborhood boys. He used to referee local church basketball and enjoyed ejecting the players who got a little too mouthy.
Not getting an education is his biggest regret: he didn't apply for a job in Oregon because he didn't think he qualified. These tidbits are precious; I hold onto them and try to piece the puzzle together. Every new piece gives color to a portion of who I am.
After a while, doctors all seem to blend together; they become Hermes, ferrying messages of well-being or disease from the gods. Last winter, my grandpa called my mother informing her that he was having chest pains again. After numerous tests, the doctors informed him that he could either live with the pain or have his gall bladder removed.
I sat in the hospital room, just the two of us, discussing the very surgery that claimed my other grandfather's life ten years ago. Tubes were in his arms, dripping who knows what into his veins. I just sat and listened.
“I know I'm old, and if it is my time to go, there's something one the other side that will make me very happy.” My grandmother passed away six years ago, and he made no attempt at concealing the longing in his eyes.
What do you say to someone who is ready to die? I hardly know anything about his life. Maybe I've wasted my time.
The game is over now, and the Jazz came out on top.
“Can I expect you next time, Justin?”
“Wouldn't miss it. Thanks, grandpa.”
Maybe, before the end inevitably comes, I will know him a little better.