Grandfathers And Grandchildren

Recently, I performed the stage role of an elderly grandfather for a gathering of my extended family over the Christmas holiday, and enjoyed having the opportunity to express through a theatrical scene, the importance of giving serious consideration to our contributions to the well-being of our family, and to acknowledge both the challenges and the rewards that being a grandfather can bring to our lives.

Being a grandparent these days, while retaining many of the basic characteristics we normally associate with this important role, has become expanded and extended beyond what it was years ago. Even just fifty or sixty years ago, the traditional roles of grandparents were fairly straightforward generally, requiring a supportive stance toward the parents, and filled with many pleasurable moments, not only watching the grandchildren grow and learn, but also spending time sharing advice and telling the grandchildren stories about the days when Mom and Dad were growing up. It was much more rare for children to have to live with their grandparents, although extreme circumstances did occur, like the loss of one’s parents, divorce, through some disabling illness or in the case of serious parental neglect or inability to care for a child.

In some ways, our modern day social environment is much more volatile and strenuous than in previous generations, and those conditions and exceptions are much more common these days. That certainly would explain how the role of grandparenting needed to change to meet this new reality. Each generation has its own unique challenges and opportunities which shape the social landscape through the years, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to recreate the conditions of previous generations in order to reduce our 21st century expectations and demands on family life.

What does seem most urgent to me, though, is the recognition, that being a grandfather or grandmother, no matter how one arrives in that role, and no matter what circumstances occur that assign us this very important role, presents us with an enormously important opportunity to not only assist in shaping the lives of the next generation of our family, but also points toward a fundamental connection that each of us has to all life, whether it is a very specific human life that a grandparent shares with their grandchild, or the most far flung life anywhere on Earth.

In a recent article by Jim Sollisch in the New York Times, he recalls how much more concern and stress accompanied the birth of his own children, and he describes his experience of becoming a father as “…a lot like becoming a German shepherd if German shepherds were capable of constantly calculating the risks of SIDS and peanut allergies.” Becoming a father is a lot like becoming something you couldn’t even have imagined being BEFORE having a child, but his exaggeration for emphasis does sort of capture the strangeness of it at first. He goes on to detail the difficult days of early fatherhood with his son’s several bouts with typical illnesses, and his stories about the differences with his second child definitely rang true for me, including one fairly serious injury report that most young parents could match at some point looking back.

He concludes by describing his experience of being a grandfather now, as always being “…the second line of defense, a bench player.” While this is frequently the case, it is much more common these days to be on the front lines of caring for and worrying about our next generation’s progeny. In my case, the role of grandfather took on a whole new level of worrying and concern when circumstances required us to care for several of our grandchildren on a daily basis for the early years of their lives. As a father, I had a fairly rocky beginning in the early years, not in my unabashed love and concern for my two small children, but in my inability to sustain a relationship with their mother.

The arrival of my children in my life was fairly challenging due to the circumstances into which they were born, but when I finally saw them as they entered the world, there was an extraordinary surge of love and positive emotion within me that could have overcome any obstacle, and I took to my role as father to my children without reservation. All other concerns melted away as I held them in my arms for the first time, and I was irrevocably altered in ways I never could have foreseen. Even as the circumstances worsened outside of their existence, there was a deepening of emotion and unconditional love that was unstoppable. Just when I thought that this would be my only experience of fatherhood, destiny and my connection to the heart of life, readied an impossible dream to unfold that would change me in ways that I never could have imagined.

****next time–an impossible dream come true****

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

As 2017 winds down and 2018 approaches, I would like to extend my personal, heartfelt “Season’s Greetings” to all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness, and to express my gratitude for the many thoughtful comments and communications from visitors all across the globe. It has been a turbulent and challenging year for many people in all parts of the world, and in spite of what must seem like a particularly daunting year for many of us in the United States and elsewhere, I still feel strongly that with the right emphasis, we can move forward into the future with hope for all of humanity.

Recognizing that there are still many areas in the world where the conditions and circumstances of everyday people are more challenging than my own, as someone who has persistently pursued the topic of the nature of subjective experience, I set myself to the task recently of composing a theatrical scene that would address questions surrounding the sometimes challenging circumstances for individuals, and at the same time, speak to the important matter of the spiritual component that I feel certain belongs in any discussion of human consciousness.

As we gathered this year at our annual family Christmas celebration, preparations were made to perform this scene for what is always the rousing and chaotic audience who is my extended family. As a former student of the theater in my youth, I trained as an actor at Temple University in Philadelphia, and had a fair amount of success in those endeavors. While I ultimately chose to concentrate on English literature in my subsequent studies, I never lost interest in all things theatrical.

I had the great good fortune to be joined in this effort by my beautiful and talented niece, Laura, who graciously agreed to perform the scene with me on very short notice. A recent graduate of the University for the Performing Arts in New York, I felt sure she would enjoy the challenge of performing before such a familiar audience. I sent her the material I had prepared with notes on how we might improvise during the impromptu interactions, along with a basic foundational script to support the performance. I was additionally blessed by the assistance of several family members in arranging for lighting and sound support, and in acquiring props that enhanced the production.

Throughout the preparation phase, I was astonished to find that I began to have many of the same emotions and anxieties as those which always overtook me when performing years ago. It was as though the neural pathways which contained those memories were suddenly lit up…well…like a Christmas tree! Last minute instructions to our hosts for the evening yielded yet another level of cooperation and help that proved invaluable as the lights dimmed and the performance began.

The scene opens with my character, Grandpa, sitting in a wheelchair, talking to himself as he awaits the arrival of his granddaughter. The theme throughout emphasizes how the human spirit can provide a true basis for hope, but also how that same spirit can move us to continue in the face of adversity. It takes place some fifteen years in the future, where my character is in his eighties and partially disabled. He’s doing alright but is becoming increasingly frail, and dependent on his family for his regular care. As the scene unfolds, he secretly contemplates his own mortality, but with the spirit of a hopeful soul. The thoughts that run through his mind are not carefree, but clearly tempered by longevity and a lifetime of loving.

Here is an excerpt from the opening monologue:

“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me, “What contribution have I made?” and “What might I still contribute in the days that remain?”

“My granddaughter will be here shortly for her annual Christmas visit and I want so much to share with her my appreciation for the joy she brings me throughout the year, but especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”

The arrival of his granddaughter for her annual Christmas visit clearly improves his mood, and her bubbling and vivacious demeanor is a most welcome development anytime. Laura’s professional and heartfelt performance gave the scene a certain power and heft that inspired my own performance, and she surprised me several times with her improvised responses.

Laura responded well to my brief story about the sadness I felt being estranged from my only son, and encouraged me well to continue to hope, in spite of his years of total absence from my life.

At one point, caught up in the emotion of the moment, her acceptance of the invitation to perform together with her aging Uncle became a gift in itself, and it felt like it always did when I performed on a public stage.

Here is an excerpt from the closing monologue:

“I don’t know how much time I have left, but I do know who I am on the inside. I know what I feel. I know there are like spirits that surround me. And when I say they surround me, I know they may not be in close proximity. They may be far away or years removed from me, but the spirit knows no boundaries. No matter where they reside, they are still with me…or within me.

When I’m alone, looking back over the years, I can still hear the beautiful song of hope that played in my head as a child. It was like a siren song, but I still believed in it. I believed in it because I could sense that it was not a song that would lead to destruction, but one that was calling me to my task. That beautiful voice gave me hope.

Now that I look back on it, I know that it was not just one voice. I know that each time I heard it, I recognized the spirit who dwelled within it. Perhaps, it may have been the voice of my as yet unborn grandchild, or maybe a voice from the future or from an ancient past. But when I heard that voice, I knew that essence.

In unguarded moments, in the silence between words, in moments of quiet contemplation, I know that it is a part of me, telling me to move forward with hope.”

Just as it appears that another Christmas will pass with no word from my son, the knock at the door, which I expected would be from my caretaker daughter, turns out to be from my son, who enters with a familiar greeting that ends the scene, as I gasp, “…My son!”

The whole experience was extraordinary from start to finish, and the rewards were almost entirely spiritual, although the curtain call at the end was also quite wonderful!

May the New Year bring all of humanity an improvement in their circumstances, and to each and every one of my readers and visitors here, many new reasons to look with hope to the future.

Warmest regards…..John H.

Auguries of Autumn

November has flown by with a swiftness of a fleeting blink of an eye. The autumn this year was reluctant to begin, with summer-like temperatures holding fairly steady well into October in the Northeast corridor, and the delay in arriving at more seasonal weather seemed to mute the changing colors when they finally began to change in earnest. As I came slowly to consciousness this past Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of a robust and formidable wind stirring the trees outside my bedroom window. Since I had no urgent events scheduled for the day, I was able to awaken slowly and reflect for a bit before rising.

I sat up for a moment or two once I had gathered my wits and took a few photos as the day began, and then settled back down again to contemplate the day’s beginning and the events of late that accompanied the strangeness of the reluctant autumn taking place all around me. I generally try to capture some seasonal images as the earth alters its course around the sun each year, but this time around, it seems that mother nature had other ideas, and stubbornly withheld the expected changes until just last week.

In the yard next door, my usual view out the window on that side would have displayed this scene a month ago, but only last week came into full blossom with many of the leaves already missing. In just the last few days, most all of the foliage in the trees lining the street was gone. The wind had wreaked havoc on whatever plumage remained and the tree now appears almost totally bare. This experience goes against the traditional one I generally expect at this time of year, and as I lay in bed pondering these changes, I looked back over several extraordinary life events that led up to the strangeness of my early morning awakening.

Beginning in late August, as I traveled to the first of three family gatherings as autumn approached, the sky above me looked so strange and peculiar as I rode astonished at the sight, that I had to capture the event, as though it were an omen of some sort. I couldn’t decide if this sky was ominous or simply extraordinary.

Gliding down the highway in silence, almost mesmerized by the sight of it, it gave me shivers as I held my eye up to viewfinder. What an amazing sight!

Last month brought me once again into the emotional rollercoaster ride as Father of the Bride. As we gathered for the marriage of my youngest daughter in the spectacular landscape of rural Virginia, the anticipated autumnal awesomeness was only barely underway as we prepared for the outdoor ceremony in the afternoon of Saturday, the 21st of October. Driving through the beauty of the sun kissed scenery, my heart already primed for the flood of feelings and memories, I was struck by the contrast with the previous driving experience, and could barely contain myself as I soaked in the spectacle before me.

On the first morning in Virginia before the wedding, I awoke at sunrise in the mountains, and was able to observe the first light while chatting with my daughter who called me on the phone. It was a compelling moment of many that would occur during the trip, but all the more poignant as I was able to share some fatherly advice with a nervous bride.

The view off the deck of the rental house above was taken on October 23rd and offered only a hint of Autumn’s colors, and while the temperatures were mild during the day, it was still chilly in the morning and that helped to remind me that we were indeed experiencing the autumnal transition. The thoughts passing through my mind on that morning turned to one of the most poignant moments that occurred over the weekend, when I first saw my youngest daughter in her wedding dress. I nearly fainted!

With one day available to me after the wedding to relax and look around, I decided to travel to nearby Charlottesville, Virginia to satisfy a lifelong desire to visit Monticello–the home of Thomas Jefferson. Ever since I was a small boy learning American History in school, I had wanted to visit this historical home, and it was another monumental and emotional experience on a weekend full of them. I will be writing a separate blog post about that visit soon, but I wanted to include an image from that day. The visit and tour of the estate will remain as one of the most significant of the many I acquired in any autumn season.

There have been so many moments throughout the season before winter this year that seemed to overwhelm my ability to process them well, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the confluence of each of these events and what the meaning might be for me personally. The perspective of years of memories of past autumns has run the gamut from the most stunningly beautiful to the personally devastating, and all along the way, every variation in between has contributed to the auguries of autumn for me.

It is sometimes said that a person in their sixth decade of life is approaching the “autumn of their years,” but I wonder now just how close the winter might be, and what wonders await me.

The Inner Reaches began in Outer Space

From the June 1962 cover of National Geographic

Please have a look at this blogpost I wrote a while back about this amazing American…May he rest in peace….

February 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the day astronaut John Glenn orbited of Earth. He was one of NASA’s original Mercury astronauts, depicted in the recent film, “The Right Stuff.” The mission lasted just under five hours, allowing Glenn to circle the globe three times in the capsule he named, ” Friendship 7.”

When John Glenn made his historic flight, I was just 9 years old, but it had a huge affect on me even then. My father was an executive in the General Electric Company in the Missile and Space Division for many of the years leading up to the moon landing in 1969, and would often come home with souvenirs from NASA and the related teams that were a part of the space program. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he made all of us wash our hands in the kitchen. We couldn’t figure out why but did as we were told.

Once we had clean hands, he lined us up in a row and shook each of our hands like he was a visiting relative or dignitary who had just been introduced to us. When he was done, he told us, “You just shook the hand of the man who shook hands with John Glenn!” We were astonished, and began jumping up and down and shouting about our amazement. John Glenn had visited the facility where he worked that day and he had the opportunity to meet and talk to him briefly as the manager of his division. He also got an autograph, and told Glenn that he had a few amateur astronauts at home. Here is the paper with the autograph on it:

Soon after the memorabilia started to accumulate, I started to gather it in a large scrapbook, like other boys my age, and dreamed of being an astronaut. I called my scrapbook, “Man Reaches for the Stars: The History of Manned Space Flight,” and continued to accumulate newspaper clippings and images from magazines, and a variety of actual photos that my father was able to bring home to me from his workplace. I never once really thought I had the “Right Stuff,” but I loved to dream about traveling to space and loved everything about space. We were on vacation down at the shore in Brigantine, New Jersey, when the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and we sat together with my Dad, and marveled at how far we had come since the days of the Mercury Astronauts.

Looking through my scrapbook this evening, I felt a little nostalgia for those days of amazement and wonder, and for the richness of the world my father had helped to paint for me, and how he encouraged me to dream big dreams, even if they wouldn’t all come true. I still share the fascination with space today, and when I look at the images of the earth from space, it always makes me long to see the view for myself, to experience the amazing sight first-hand. No view is quite like it…

The Inner Reaches began in Outer Space

From the June 1962 cover of National Geographic

February 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the day astronaut John Glenn orbited of Earth. He was one of NASA’s original Mercury astronauts, depicted in the recent film, “The Right Stuff.” The mission lasted just under five hours, allowing Glenn to circle the globe three times in the capsule he named, ” Friendship 7.”

When John Glenn made his historic flight, I was just 9 years old, but it had a huge affect on me even then. My father was an executive in the General Electric Company in the Missile and Space Division for many of the years leading up to the moon landing in 1969, and would often come home with souvenirs from NASA and the related teams that were a part of the space program. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he made all of us wash our hands in the kitchen. We couldn’t figure out why but did as we were told.

Once we had clean hands, he lined us up in a row and shook each of our hands like he was a visiting relative or dignitary who had just been introduced to us. When he was done, he told us, “You just shook the hand of the man who shook hands with John Glenn!” We were astonished, and began jumping up and down and shouting about our amazement. John Glenn had visited the facility where he worked that day and he had the opportunity to meet and talk to him briefly as the manager of his division. He also got an autograph, and told Glenn that he had a few amateur astronauts at home. Here is the paper with the autograph on it:

Soon after the memorabilia started to accumulate, I started to gather it in a large scrapbook, like other boys my age, and dreamed of being an astronaut. I called my scrapbook, “Man Reaches for the Stars: The History of Manned Space Flight,” and continued to accumulate newspaper clippings and images from magazines, and a variety of actual photos that my father was able to bring home to me from his workplace. I never once really thought I had the “Right Stuff,” but I loved to dream about traveling to space and loved everything about space. We were on vacation down at the shore in Brigantine, New Jersey, when the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and we sat together with my Dad, and marveled at how far we had come since the days of the Mercury Astronauts.

Looking through my scrapbook this evening, I felt a little nostalgia for those days of amazement and wonder, and for the richness of the world my father had helped to paint for me, and how he encouraged me to dream big dreams, even if they wouldn’t all come true. I still share the fascination with space today, and when I look at the images of the earth from space, it always makes me long to see the view for myself, to experience the amazing sight first-hand. No view is quite like it…