The Crown of the Aged
The sun is shining in a blue, cloudless sky today. The air is full of arctic chill and my wife and I are babysitting two of our grandchildren for the day. They are an infant and a pre-schooler and they are so beautiful, so full of life and pure innocence, that our hearts feel on the edge of bursting from pride and joy in them. This passage from Proverbs came to mind as I watched them just being who they are, completely free of any pretenses. ʺGrandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.ʺ (Proverbs 17:6)
It is one of the graces of grandparent-hood, to sit in for a few hours, or an occasional weekend, with your children’s children. They remind you, once again, of God’s generous gift of innocence. It is in their eyes and in their faces. They are a clear contrast to a world that is so often overshadowed with the darkness of human concupiscence. They help to remind us that we must be more like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3)
We grandparents, having raised our own children, have known the joys and the pains of bringing them up in this world that is so full of distractions and temptations. We had our turn at worrying over their health and well-being at every stage. We watched our children fall and skin their knees as little ones, we picked them up to comfort them, to show them that we were always there, that we would always love them and care for them. As they grew older, we tried to protect them from the world’s lumps and bruises as much as we could, and we tried to educate both their intellects and their souls. We taught them prayers, told them about Jesus and his love for all of us, and took them to church to give them an experience of a community bound together in faith and a deep love for God. We tried to help them form their consciences to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Sometimes that education had to take the form of punishments that we applied with heavy hearts and, yet, with the heavy weight of loving responsibility too. They needed to know that life is difficult, but also that they were loved and that, though they might fail at times, and suffer the consequences of their poor decisions, that we would still love them and be faithful with them. We forgave them and challenged them to pick themselves up and to try again. We did what we could to show them that it is their decisions that are often the sources of their joys, or their sorrows. We tried to teach them that Jesus is their best friend, and greatest support; that when things get tough, they can come to us, but that in the really difficult times, they can go to Jesus, in faith, and find the support and healing that they need the most.
As grandparents now, we have the luxury and the gift of some social distance in that we often do not live in the same house. And we have the natural respect and awe that comes to children when they look into our aging faces and see our love reflecting back to them from our eyes. Maybe they associate an unspoken dignity to a head full of gray hair. Or, maybe it is just that whenever they see us, we are always bearing gifts and that we are always willing to entertain their imaginations for the brief time that we are with them.
We have done our job. We have raised our children and watched them learn the ropes of independence, maybe going off to college, maybe finding their way successfully into the work world. We can stand back and watch them with pride and with a growing respect for their own growing wisdoms. It is true, we never stop worrying, but we have learned to let them go. Now it is their turn to make it in the messy adult world. We are still there to help when they ask us, but we have learned to let them learn from their own mistakes and successes too. Our hearts swell to bursting as our children, through the love they share with their spouses, bring their own children into the world. Now, our role is different. Now we help our children to teach their children from the perspective of an elder, in some ways, too, as an outsider, who can be a neutral arbiter in the matters that can be difficult for parents and children to deal with because they are too close to it.
It is good to be with our grandchildren today. If we watch patiently, if we listen intently, they will teach us again about innocence, and about God’s infinite beauty and love in the midst of our ordinary, daily lives. Thank God for the gift of children, and grandchildren.