My grandfather passed away last week, and I’ve found myself at an unaccustomed loss of words. So I offer up others’ words

Gospel of Social Justice

His memorial service was on Friday. This summer we’ll do a scattering of the ashes at the Labyrinth, but Friday was at Trinity Episcopal Church in Sutter Creek. The Rector welcomed us with a story.

“20+ years ago, newly arrived in Sutter Creek having just graduated from seminary, I took out a small ad announcing a new Friday night service.”

“Much to my surprised, I got a call, from Bob Elliott, and I gave him my pitch on how this was going to be the greatest, most spiritually uplifting possible service. And he listened, politely, patiently, and at the end, he said, ‘I’ve got one question for you.’”

“Well my mind raced, ‘Something about liturgy? Music?’ But he asked, ‘Is your church founded on the principle of the Gospel of Social Justice? Yes? Fine, we’ll be there.’”

I’ve always known that I was setup by my family to do some of the work I do, but nothing this week made me breakdown quite like that silly little story.

Old Bear

I told 3 stories on Friday, they went something like this:

“Grandpa has been a estate lawyer, and a shaman for as long as I can remember. Both professions concerned with helping people make the journey into death. I figure he was pretty much an expert on the subject. I just wish I could ask him how it all went, get his perspective, what worked, what he might have done differently.”

Folks laughed, but it wasn’t really meant to be that funny.

“When I was kid, maybe 20 years ago, maybe 15, we were up at Yosemite, and Grandpa was telling us about shamanism. He was talking about how tree roots are gateways, you follow the roots down and down and down eventually you find yourself in the Spirit world. Since them I’ve always thought of trees with their roots exposed as gateways.”

“Week before last Murray Creek was hit by a 100 year storm, and walking across the hills, shimmering green for a brief window before being baked back to their more characteristic golden brown, there were dozens, maybe hundreds of trees down everywhere, 100-200 year old live oaks. And everywhere roots, reaching out, and I couldn’t help but think that doors had been thrown open, welcoming Grandpa home.” (as we say in the Irish Methodist tradition of my forebears)

I got to tell Grandpa that story shortly before he died, he opened his eyes, and smiled.

“Both my grandfathers were named Bob. Grandpa and Grandfather to distinguish them. Grandpa was one of CA’s dearly departed golden bears, scrambling over the hills, and creeks, speaking firmly to mountain lions, Grandfather was an albatross, quietly soaring along the high, icy intellectual altitudes where few could follow, the world depicted with a few effortless strokes. That’s the image I’ve been carrying with me all week, the bear and the albatross out there somewhere talking to each other.”

Feels wrong to collapse memory into such a simple representation, but how does one hold onto to people so complex if you don’t simplify?

I also met Audrey Michelle Elliott-Heye for the first time this week, who surprisingly in this family doesn’t seem to have her own website or blog yet.