Sitting in the LaGuardia Airport waiting area among the throng of Passover and Easter travelers heading out of town from New York, from Long Island, where I was born and where I grew up and where I spent countless hours if not years trying to figure out why my grandmother was perhaps one of the more classic human contradictions to have ever lived, I realize it was April 2 and the next day, today, April 3, would have been her 94th birthday.
Maybe she looked ahead and clearly saw this collision of her birthday and Christ's death as some kind of sign. She did have a personal relationship to the Lord, which she would often talk about after taking a predictable tangent in conversation with me or others. I think it was her main preoccupation to see all of us saved. And she had a cunning way of lapsing into the realm of discussion that she preferred to our family's preferred topics about politics, food, books, sports or free-range gossip and hyperbolic speculation and proclamations. But we tended to listen politely and give her some respect for her deep personal relationship to the Lord before we steered talk back to the land of the profane and the living.
So maybe she did see April 3 was going to land on Good Friday this year. Her birthday on the day of the crucifixion. She could escape this realm, this reality, this Earth and all its pain and suffering and profanity and reach for the white light of salvation, exactly what Jesus the savior promised in all those iterations of the New Testament, which was for my grandmother the living word. So in a bit of torment and defiance she bowed out before this strange confluence of dates, and as a I sat there in the airport terminal, about to fly over Long Island and Manhattan and off to the midwest, it made perfect sense.
I can picture my grandmother sitting at the table at her kitchen in Levittown all those years ago, when I was 9 or 12 or any age, really, since my grandmother decided I was a good conversationalist and, after a day of railing and grimacing and at times raging against the daily siege of meal preparation and laundry, I was the perfect candidate to be taken aside in the low light of the evening. The house would be quiet. And she had a different tone, too. It was as if all her jaw-cracking and arm-waving tirades throughout the day had never happened; as if her obvious frustration at having to manage and handle the activity of a house filled with her three adopted children who were the same age roughly as us, her grandchildren, was forgotten. I think this is what intrigued me most. To see a person flip from barely contained rage to an assumed air of calm. I would listen but inside I was trying my best to understand the ways in which people can present in such different demeanors.
She was the first person and such a fascinating example of the way people can have dueling natures and I kind of felt like a big shot, since I was the candidate chosen by her to be the witness to her "other" side, the person who wanted to be understood, to talk it out, to get to that place that really meant something to her. This happened often enough to be a big part of my life, since me and my siblings stayed at my grandparents during the times my parents traveled, or over a weekend or during the summer, since my grandparents had a boat and they had a lot of kids in the neighborhood and public pools all over Levittown that made it good.
Invariably, in the work of a seductress, my grandmother would reward me for my listening skills, my questions, by telling me how precious I was, how smart, how grown up and ... it worked. It created a bond of love or something between us that prevented me for almost the entirety of her fraught life to try and reconcile the conflicting sides of her personality. She was deeply religious, born out of a Quaker family that dates back to the 1640s when the pilgrims settled Connecticut, and yet no matter how much faith she had, she was a peripatetic figure who could not be alone, could not settle, could not live without prescription medication because there was always intolerable pain.
My grandmother was just one of those unsolvable dichotomies of people who bears deep religious conviction yet whose every mortal action defies the alleged peace and strength and grace that God is supposed to give.
Still, of course, I think about her very often now that she is gone, especially today. Good Friday. Her birthday.
The day she died, on February 1, my parents called to tell me she was gone. It was a very strange sensation of deep sadness, for her death and also for all the tumult she experienced in her life, especially after my grandfather died and she seemed to cast herself into a series of moves and marriages. Nothing ever quite worked.
But then the strangest thing happened -- the kind of event that has no explanation and has to be accepted for the sign it was. About an hour after I learned about her death, I got a notification on my cellphone that a photograph I had taken and posted on Instagram had been "liked." It was just a notice without specific details about what photo.
When I clicked into the Instagram app, and went to the top of the list of photos that had been previously "liked," I saw that the one that had just been liked was of my grandmother. It was a photo of her that I had taken almost exactly a year prior. In other words, it was buried in my Instagram photo feed. It was probably 400 photos down in the feed, yet someone, somewhere, had clicked THAT exact photo at nearly the exact moment that I got the news of her death.
It is impossible to describe the sensation that came over me as I called up that photo, to see her sitting in front of me, staring out in the photo. After a few seconds of shock, I tried to figure out WHO and WHY this photo, out of ALL the photos I have ever posted, made it into this position. It turns out that the person or Instagram account that had "liked" my photo was from a cafe in Melbourne Australia. Completely random. Completely inexplicable. Or, maybe, completely explicable.
For the entire day, in fact, for a few days, I had a strange sensation that my grandmother had come not just to me, but through me, on her way out of the world. She was right there, even though she was technically gone. I'm still not exactly sure what to make of it, or what to do with it, but it was and remains a very quietly powerful sensation, and it did the work I needed it to do-- affirm to me our connection and, despite my own sense of dis-ease about her life, how much we did love each other.
I used to write politics, news and sports for newspapers in cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. Now I take a lot of Instagram photos, check Facebook, swim, read about T$$$p and cook dinner for people I really like. New York native, living in Port Washington and Greenfield Center (that's near Saratoga Springs FYI).