I don’t know if I was trying to prove something with Mr. Posey, or if I was working out some deep psychological need within me and he had just happened to show up to give me a hand with it.
I know that I had been thinking about my grandfather in the days before Posey had come into the ER. I know that my father had given me, just weeks before, papers that my grandfather had left with his wife after he had died. I know that I had transferred all of my credit cards, and other official documents, into my grandfather’s old wallet, which I was wearing in the back pocket of my scrubs. I know I must have been ready, because I know what happened.
My Grandfather, my father’s father, was not an active member of my family; he was more of a fable than a person to us.
Grandpa left my father’s mother when my dad was less than a year old, and he had no contact with my father again until after I was born, and while my father was in still in the Army. He contacted my father after he became a member of a 12-step program for alcohol abuse and needed to make amends for his past (step 9.)
I know my Grandfather from: pictures, an old wallet he gave my father, and a copy of his medical records from the Army. I know his height, weight, and method of death. I am also an Alcoholic- so I guess I know that from him too.
My father has a picture of him, but I’ve never been able to get a sense of him through that picture. There is something important about him that I have always needed to know, some understanding or sense that continues to elude me.
I’ve been to my grandfather’s grave a few times. It’s very pretty, lots of mossy big-branched trees for shade, and a simple green layout. The gravesite is surprisingly easy to find- I park off the road about where the X marked the spot on the map my Dad gave me -- 6 rows in, 8 rows back -- George Chester Brady, on a flat head marker. I’ve memorized the location, but don’t go there much anymore.
The grave was between two large trees, trees that looked to be about 50 years old- not huge ancient giants, but mature healthy ones, with well developed branches and Spanish moss hanging from the sides of them.
My grandfather died on May 2nd, 1957- 48 years ago; the trees must have been planted and new about the same time as he was buried.
The grave sits on springy, clumpy and slightly uneven grass. On my Grandfathers marker there’s a cross at the top, his name underneath and title below that. At the very bottom was a note showing the dates he had served in WWII, and the branch of service he was in.
The cross signified that he was Catholic, something I had not known or thought about before. Most of the graves around him do not have the cross on them. I did find a really big section later with large stars on them (Jewish.) I am not sure how many southern Catholics there are- it seems a funny religion for the South.
My father turned Catholic in his 40’s- took the classes, made the commitment, and now goes to mass every Sunday. I am a big fan of Walker Percy, another Southern writer, and note that he too turned Catholic in his 40’s. This stuff seems important to understand, but I don’t. I remember Carl Jung writing that most neurosis that happen to people after the age of 30 are spiritual problems- the angst caused by not being able to find something bigger than self to believe in.
Next to my grandfather was Grandmother Carol. Her marker was of the newer kind, a little less age on it, and a little smaller. I noted that she was born in 1895, and that she was 16 years older than my grandfather. I guess he liked older women, and suddenly thought- he was alive and had a relationship with a woman- they probably fucked, talked about dreams together, were confused together, and fought and made up together. He was more than a picture or memory- he was made of the same animated meat as I am. He was probably a lot like me, with some of the same strengths and flaws that I have. My Grandfather was a real person.
I identify with my Grandfather because we are both Alcoholics. My immediate family, mom, dad and siblings, have no alcoholics of note, no one really drinks. My struggle when I first noted my trouble with drugs and alcohol was the complete surprise of it. I had no idea that it was even possible that I was an alcoholic- I had no frame of reference to compare it to. I had always felt that if you wanted to see what you would become- look at your parents and their brothers and sisters- you would be something like that. The obsession and compulsion, the disease of alcoholism, came to me out of nowhere. Only a remembered link with my Grandfather gave any sense, and that sense came only after a lot of reflection and thought.
To the left of my Grandfathers gave are the graves of Mother Carol’s sister and her husband. They had lived near Clearwater all their lives, and it was their house we usually stayed at when we visited Tampa.
My memory of their house was the plastic that covered all of the furniture- even the rugs had plastic runners covering them. I think that those plastic covers were one of the pivots of understanding in my life. They were so uncomfortable and obtrusive, that I came to understand that in protecting something there’s always a cost. Life, the way I came to understand it, was to be used and maybe abused, and that the costs of having to replace and redo were less than the pain of living in a thick, all present bubble- that the bubble interfered with the experience.
Older now, I am not sure I learned the right lesson from those runners, but I do remember how much I disliked them. As I look at their graves, I can’t help but feel that their coffins were covered with bubble-wrap before they were lowered in.
My Grandfather was in the army when he had his first heart attack in 1953- a fairly large anterior wall infarction according to his EKG. I have all of his medical records in a large brown manila satchel. I have no idea why I have them, or how my father got them before he gave them to me. It could not be normal to have these records, but I do.
The records show that he was treated with digoxin, lasix, and nitroglycerine. He also received a bunch of morphine for the first few days that he spent in the hospital. He spent a total of two weeks at the base hospital after the heart attack, all of the time on bed rest, and was then, his records note, on some form or another of disability for the rest of his life- the next two years. During these last 2 years he apparently entered AA, contacted my Dad, and became a living part of my memory.
My Grandfather died May 2nd 1957. I would have been slightly more than two years old when he died, so most likely have no actual memory of him- just pictures that make it seem like I was with him. My actual memory- the stuff that if you asked me what I remembered I would tell you: I met him, and was held by him.
I’m now getting to the age of being a grandfather myself, and am aware of what my grandfather could have added to my life at an early age.
As I think of him, I think about what I will leave to the children of my children, and what they would miss if I were not around to mess with their gentle, unformed minds.
My father writes poetry, and has books and writings of his word in scattered places that can survive the fall. When I read his work, I know that I am different from him in fundamental ways, and that I make choices that he never would. I also know that I am from him, and a part of him, and no place I go will ever be without him. I know him because I’ve been a part of him and have seen him live his life in front of me.
My father says that his father wrote poetry, but none of it remains. What would I see of myself if I had the words to read into what he said and felt? What could I tell my children’s children about us as a clan if I had the writings to touch and make sense of?
Without words or contact it’s tough to know the tics and strangeness I might have held in common with my father’s father... Without his words, or an adequate description of him from another person or source, it’s hard to see what his passions might have been, what moved him in ways I could recognize or marvel at for their strangeness not of me. I’m sure my father was much like him, but different in fundamental ways and in choices made.
On the visits to my grandfather’s grave I never found anything there waiting for me. No twinges of feelings, or sudden flashes of new directions to take with my life. I felt like I was in a dead place without any meaning other than reflection. I left there more alone than when I came.
What I expected to feel when I stood over my grandfather’s grave, I felt the first time I met Mr. Posey sitting up in that ER gurney two days earlier.
My connection with Mr. Posey was through my grandfather. I knew it the instant that I met him, and I know it now. For some reason unclear, there was a meaningful link that was impossible to discount.
Jung talks of synchronicity – the experience of two things happening together that seem related, but are just, apparently, two things. His example: he is seeing a patient who mentions a beetle in her story. When she says beetle, he looks out his window and sees a beetle crawling up his wall.
It’s about two things that seem related in an important way, but because they happen in an acausal way, they can’t be tied together by using the laws of science to relate them.
Synchronicity is the seeing of a link, an effect, without seeing any cause for it –it is acausal, and doesn’t fit any understandable pattern of reality. Jung felt that just as things could be grouped by their cause and effects, they could be grouped by their meanings as well. He felt that there were profoundly meaningful events that happened in a persons life that could not be explained by reason.
Most modern, western people think that everything that happens can be traced back to a cause—that it’s just a matter of looking hard enough for the linkage.
Like when I look at my life in retrospect – everything looks like it was inevitable – I did something, something happened, and here I am – that’s one way of seeing causal effects.
Or, I am flawed to the core with original sin – There is a punishing Old Testament god – He makes me suffer because I deserve it – that’s another.
But these causal statements, though easy to defend with reason, don’t feel right. Life is what I made it, and if I had to do it again, I do it different – nothing is or was inevitable about it.
And the older I get, the more I see that the sins and flaws I was born with are only tools that I’ve used to give myself shape – and without them, I’d be a boneless and unmotivated puddle of goo. I’m not being punished, I’m learning.
Just because human beings are good at complicated puzzles doesn’t mean that life is a giant cut up picture of the London Bridge, or that the point of life is to put together with the help of others.
Finding a meaning in a chain of meanings, though harder to quantify, has at least the gut level feel of truth. Looking for causes to explain effects seems almost like shoehorning a bunch of justifications into a narrative language just because it’s easy to understand – it’s a forcing of what’s real into the container of what we already think is real.
And then we stand outside the container and say to ourselves – this doesn’t look right, some thing is wrong -- and spend the rest of our lives trying to either figure it out, or find shiny baubles to distract us.
What I know is: I’ve never had those moments in church that touched me with that connection to something bigger. I’ve never walked away from a prayer to god satisfied with his answer.
The bottom line is: if the thing you see is too true to not be real, you’d be an idiot not to go with it.
It wasn’t a feeling I had of that linked me to Mr. Posey, and it wasn’t faith. It was like an aged memory left in bone, to be found and triggered by a meaningful memory, to then unfold in a chain of meanings.
When I’d accepted the memories aroused by Posey and acknowledged them through my actions, I had also accepted the rest of the unfolding, and the meaning in the meanings.