September 2, 2018

The Past is not Dead: reaching out to my Grandfather’s Ghost.

There comes a moment in everyone’s life, I feel, when the demand of daily living compels us to reach for a memory dwelling somewhere in the back of our weary minds; to give ourselves fleeting solace from the chaos of the outside world.

I was struck like lightning by such a moment in the late hours of the night, as vague feelings from my childhood came back to me with penetrating clarity.

I remembered my grandfather—his touch, his gaze, his power—and the ancient connection we share in our blood that I have always known within my soul.

It dawned on me, all in a matter of moments, that this strange and stinging feeling I’ve grown up with my whole life—of being somehow less than what other people were, alienated from a sense of community and family and heritage—has all come from the same empty space in my heart that my grandfather’s love and guidance was intended to fill.

I cried and cried, remembering the pieces of my childhood that perhaps I would’ve rather stayed hidden. Glancing over the highlight reel of awkward and painful experiences that had been whitewashed from my memory, I thought to myself, “If he had been there, protecting me, guiding me, I wouldn’t have felt that way.”

This is more than a statement of regret or a desperate desire to change the past—it is a declaration of possibility and hope for the future.

In that series of moments, the connection with my grandfather was restored in my body, and it’s never been more clear to me how his memory and spirit live on inside of me through all the days of my life.

I feel that something has been redeemed, brought back to life through this strange sequence of disturbing flashbacks. And, the most comforting feeling of all, is knowing that he never truly left me—flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.

The past is very much alive, although it would be convenient for many of us if the past stayed dead. And maybe, in those rare and unlikely moments when we reach for a ghost from the past, something will reach back to us with a fondness and warmth that reminds us of what we’ve forgotten—but could never lose.

I wrote the following in a cathartic release of emotion that sent shockwaves through my body, reminding me that we are truly history’s children and that our roots can never be severed.

We are the link between the momentum of the past and the unknown future that lies ahead, and to feel what we must feel in the present, is the often missing connection between these two forces.

Dearest Grandfather,

I’m afraid you are no longer with us. Nearly 20 years ago today—on a golf course, an August day not unlike this one—you fell, and never stood again. A pain in your chest—piercing, penetrating—as you took your last few conscious breaths before going under, under, under, beneath all things.

I wonder if you were afraid in those final moments. Perhaps it was a relief to leave this all behind.

What was going through your mind as you stepped into the abyss?

If you were afraid, it was surely for those left behind, not for the sake of your own body. It had seen too much already to be afraid. And my own body is but a fruit taken from the tree of yours—I am a piece of you. I’ve been alienated from this fact my whole life, estranged from your spirit and your body.

I never really knew who you were—outside of a few dreamlike memories of your powerful hands lifting me to the sky. But I’ve felt your strength with me my whole life. I don’t know how to explain it.

I’ve carried a part of you with me always, a strange and comforting feeling, through the darkness and chaos of my journey—as though your powerful hands continue to lift me to brighter days.

Your will. Your love. Your strength.

Cementing my foundations and pushing me forward, so that I may look the world in the face and trust in my own power. This is what you gave me. I will never know how you could be so strong.

It has not been an easy journey for me, I’m sorry to say. My life has not been as charmed as you’d have hoped it would be. I’ve felt, at many moments, like a stranger in a strange land—separated from my origins.

I never knew where I came from, and this piercing feeling has cut me to the bone. Always so afraid. Always out of place. Always on the sidelines of life.

Still, Grandpa, everything I’ve had in my life—every opportunity and every privilege—I owe to you. I would be nobody and nothing without you, and it makes my heart quiver that I was never truly able to have you in my life as anything other than a memory, and a flowing strand of DNA.

There is no length I wouldn’t go to see you again, truly, and have your stern and gentle presence in my life once more, now more than ever.

Illness has struck me like a lightning bolt. I was 18 when it began. Ready for college and the bright future that lay before me. Maybe I’ll be a psychologist, or a doctor, or a humble social worker, I used to think. I was not ready for what happened. It was too much for a young man to endure, alone.

It was all taken from me, as mysterious symptoms corroded my once pristine health. And although I had a year of near full recovery when I trained full time mixed martial arts—I’m a fighter, very much like you—I have since fallen ill still further, with less hope of returning to what I once was.

I have been ashamed of this, Grandpa. My energy and life-force have been sucked from me like a needle in my bones, the marrow of my being absorbed back into nature from whence it came. I have not been able to be the man I have needed to be, the man that you once were, to protect my family from unnecessary strife and hardship.

I wonder what you would think of me if you could see me now. Perhaps you would see nothing but a boy, a grown up child, unable to adjust to life. Though, I like to think, on my better days, that you would be able to see the part of you that lives in me, piercing through my eyes with every gaze and glance.

The fact of our intertwined spirits, eternally linked at their core, is a fact that could never be buried. I am my mother’s son, and your legacy.

The only shrine I have to your life is my own body, hard and slender and burnt red in the summer. I find sometimes that when I dwell in the dark corners of my mind—the fragments of time, of life, of love, that have been trickled into my soul by your memory and your blood.

My body, an extension of yours, a testament to the footprints you left on this earth, the battles you have fought and seen the end of. It is in this body where the battle continues to be fought.

The past is not dead. It never was.

The past lives through us, from moment to moment, as we embark on our journey through life. We cannot deny our origins, for every cell of the body is endowed with its own cosmic history that is beyond our choosing. We come from somewhere, and our living body is a shrine to our ancestors—as the memories of loved ones continue to swirl around our heart.

Although it’s sometimes difficult to face our own past, the deepest unconscious forces that operate in our psyche and live through us, it’s clear to me that the more light we shed on our past in all of its ruthless glory, the brighter the future becomes. 

We are the bridge between worlds, between completely different moments in space-time, between generations upon generations of love and pain. If we choose to bridge that gap, then something very deep within us becomes redeemed.

Look in the rearview mirror of your life for a moment, and see what you’re really driving away from. Look into the past, face what you must face, see what you must see. And, most essentially, delve into the dormant corners of your body and soul to see if you can feel the gentle warmth of everyone that has ever loved you and all of the cosmic links that connect us to this beautiful world.

This was my attempt to feel that warmth once again, in this sickly, slender body that I’m so incredibly grateful to have been given, even with all of the pain and joy that it has lived through.

Feel the aliveness of your own body for a few moments, with its deep roots and cosmic significance, remembering the ghosts of our past, and the angels that lie beneath.

In loving memory of Paul Pincus


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