Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just Gathering My Strength (Calling on the Ancestors)

On Sunday I alluded to those men who have gone before me who have contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the man I have become. My maternal grandfather, Linzie “Sam” Butler, was one of those men.

He passed on very early in my life. In fact, I suddenly realize that when he passed, he was just about the same age I am now. And of all of his grandchildren, I have the singular distinction of having met him, having sat with him, having talked with him, having been blessed by him. He is who I measure myself against. And I always stop to ask myself, will I ever be as great a man as he?

It’s funny how a child’s perception works. When I was a child, I could have sworn that he was well over six feet tall. I could have sworn he was a giant. However, just last evening while I was going through some papers, I found that he was not much taller than I am now.

But he worked hard, very hard all his life, much harder and under conditions that I could not imagine having to endure. Perhaps he worked so hard then so that I would not have to work so hard now.

And with the little he had, he managed to do great things. He began as a sharecropper, but he managed to finally own his own farm, his own piece of land, his own home. He also managed to raise six children and see to it that all six went to college, and four even went on to receive advanced degrees.

How did he manage to do so much with so little, at least far less than I have right now?

Toward the end of his life, when his death was imminent, no one told me. Perhaps as a child, I would not have understood. Perhaps, I would not have believed it, or maybe I would have been overcome by just the thought. But I know now when the life began to leave him. I know now when the struggle became too great.

He was a man who was perpetually in motion. Very seldom did he just sit still. He slowed down only so I might catch up to him; he shortened his stride only so that I might keep up with him, so that I might walk at his side. But suddenly I would find him around the house, in the yard, just sitting, staring into space trying to catch his breath.

And I would playfully smile at him, and ask him, “Granddaddy, whatcha’ doin’?”

And he would smile back at me. I still remember that smile. He had one tooth missing right there in front. The gleam would momentarily return to his eye, and with what strength he had left, he would lift me unto his lap and hug me and say to me, “Nothing, son. Just sitting here for spell gathering my strength is all. Just sitting here gathering my strength.”

So, I may be tired, perhaps as tired as he was then. And sometimes I feel like just giving it up, throwing in the towel, just living quietly here with my wife and children and take life as it comes, as it’s given to me. But I feel I owe it to my grandfather to be that much better. I owe it to my grandfather to go just that much farther. I think I owe it to my grandfather to leave a proud legacy to my children just as he left to me so that they might pass that legacy to their children, so that they might pass to their children and so on.

So, at this very moment I am tired. Very tired. I wonder if my grandfather was ever this tired, as tired as I am now, or everyday of his life he may have been this tired, this beat.

But I am going to say to my children, to those that look up to me, those that depend on me, those looking to me for guidance and inspiration, just let me just sit here a spell and gather my strength. Just give me a moment to catch my breath, and shortly, I’ll be alright and prepared to move onward and upward with you walking beside me, matching me stride for stride.


Unknown said...

Great thought-provoking post!

Sometimes it seems like our forefathers had a strength that we do not possess today. They struggled so much more than we do: having to deal with poverty and racism.

Those these are still present, we are still able to accel and to achieve. They were not. That is where their true strength came from: passing their energy to those who they thought would be able to carry on their legacies, attaining greatness that they could not.

And to live their lives through us.

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