My beloved Grandma, otherwise known as Gigi, always used to say, “This too shall pass.” Far more than a cliché to her, the phrase allowed her to laugh in the face of life’s tragedies. Her Irish merriment, sprinkled liberally through the years, seasons me still.
It broke her heart to send her husband off to World War II. Although their separation dragged on, years-long and painful, Gigi still managed to rummage up some fun. She and her younger sister “Pete,” whose husband also served in the war, shared an apartment in Kansas City. They rode street cars to their new jobs at an aircraft engine factory. After late night shifts, the sisters ate supper at an all-night café and went to the movies, also open all night.
At last her beloved returned safely, the world at peace; and Gigi was thrilled to finally start a family. Gigi and Grandpa were married fifty-four years before they were forced apart again. Grandpa died suddenly after heart surgery at age 73. Gigi kept him near in stories about the past. History came alive for me as she recounted the Depression, World War II, and the turbulent 1960’s. She linked politics and current events to the past, and usually had strong opinions about the right course of action in the present.
In her eighty-fourth year, her strength waned. She declined rapidly during the last week of her life, but never surrendered her courageous, positive attitude. One morning she struggled across the room after eating breakfast. Instead acting discouraged, she shook her head and laughed at herself as she sank into a chair. Two days before she died, she waved her hand, smiled, and said, “I feel great.” I mentioned how excited Grandpa must be getting to see her again. She chuckled and replied, “Yes, he’s probably saying, ‘Hurry up!’”
When I asked Gigi once what she was looking forward to most in the future, she replied that she simply appreciated each day for what it is. Even though she believed “this too shall pass,” she also knew the secret of living in “this.”
Henry Nouwen wrote, “So often people grow resentful and bitter as they grow older. With time their image of an ideal life is disturbed because historical, political, personal, family, or financial realities break through… The great art is to gradually trust that life’s interruptions are in the places where you are being molded and formed into the person God calls you to be. You know you are living a grateful life when whatever happens is received as an invitation to deepen your heart, to strengthen your love, and to broaden your hope.”
In Colorado, our sunflowers grow wild and free, waltzing through meadows at the feet of the mountains. But now, in mid-September, they bend their weary heads. Shriveled petals drift to the ground. Soon, autumn winds will blow and winter snow will obscure all hope of their vibrant yellow.
But, as summer after summer in Colorado testifies, in the “this” of winter, deep below the frozen air and drifts of white, tiny seeds persevere with vitality and determination to “deepen,” “strengthen” and “broaden” their yellow dance.
At long last, “this too shall pass.” The winter snow will thaw, the dark night will end, and summer will come.