This past Sunday, May 31, 2009, my grandpa, Stanley Ellis, turned 89 years old. Every year on his birthday two things happen: 1) he says he won’t be around to celebrate because he’s going to go on vacation somewhere fun like Mexico (though he never goes), and 2) just as he’s blowing out the candles on his birthday cake my mom, his daughter, starts chanting, “Speech! Speech! Speech!” (Really, though, she does that with everyone).
Usually Grandpa has no birthday speech. He thanks everyone for being with him and for being a part of his life. The best thing about grandpa is that he really means these things, but he doesn’t do speeches.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine, kind, generous and funny human being than my grandpa and when he tells you he’s happy to see you better believe he really is happy to be laying eyeballs on your person. I attribute a lot of my own sense of humor and my appreciation of life to his outlook and his ability to make lemonade out of every lemony situation that comes his way.
This year, as he turned 89, something changed. Oh, he still swore he’d be in Mexico when the day came and, of course, he wasn’t, but this time he had some thoughts he wanted to share. Grandpa was never a man who enjoyed being the center of attention so it was a unique moment in history this Sunday when we were privileged to listen to his words of wisdom as the smoke from his birthday cake candles disappeared into the spring night air.
He didn’t feel comfortable writing his own words so his girlfriend’s daughter found something that summed up his sentiment. I thought I’d share his words with you this week. You might not have gotten to be a part of the magical moment that was his speech but you can certainly gain great wisdom and insight from his words. I do not know the name of the author of who wrote this but I will try to find out and amend this blog. — Many thanks to my cousin Erin Berry for giving me the link to the website where this quote can be found: individual quotes are on http://www.motivateus.com
The gift of life provides nourishment in doses. We often malnourish ourselves when we find comfort in dark places, but there is nothing grand enough to be considered irreparable. The light that once functioned as a guide to your decision still remains inside of you. Trust and faith in one’s self will direct you to your heart’s passion.
The path we travel is laden with peaks and valleys. The secret is to not dwell upon the depth of the canyon, nor the steepness of the ascent, but to reflect upon the view from the top, once we arrive.”
May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand.
May the pain you have known and conflict you have experienced give you the strength to walk through life,
facing each new situation with courage and optimism.
Always know that there are those whose love and understanding will always be there, even when you feel most alone.
Given what I know of my grandpa’s life these words moved me beyond measure. They truly sum up his life and his approach to the events that have occurred within it.
So often we all think about how terrible the things that have happened to us are, and to us, they are terrible things. But when we look outside ourselves and get involved with the lives of others we often find that we’ve been spared anything approaching the levels of true suffering. For every disappointment that seems like a tragedy today a little perspective will reveal it to be nothing but a blip on the map of our whole lives.
My grandpa, though, expereinced things that most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. He grew up a child of the depression. He married my grandma when they were both 21 after only 4 weeks of knowing each other and they were the love of each other’s lives until her death of Alzheimer’s disease in 2004. If you don’t know the horrors that come with Alzheimer’s you are very lucky and I hope you never do. It seems to me that at times this is a disease that causes a great deal more suffering for the loved ones of the afflicted than to the patients themselves.
My grandparents had 3 children: a son named Bob, a son named Gordon and my mother, Judy. Gordon was 2 years older than my mom and when he was 7 and she was only 5 he died in a horrible accident. I may not have children yet but I believe I can understand the depth of the sadness and depression that must come of such a tragedy. Though he mourned the loss of his son and no doubt still does, he never lost his sense of humor or his ability to see the good in his life, the people around him and the situations that life presented to him. He’s a great optimist and every storm he’s ever weathered he got through by knowing it would end and that there was still joy to be found in life.
Perhaps because of the loss of my uncle Gordon, or just because my grandparents had a lot of love to bestow, they became foster parents and my mom spent a period of years with several transitional siblings passing through her home. My grandparents, Stanley and Olwyn Ellis, took their tragedy and used it to make the lives of others better. What a wonderful gift to have… and to give.
I truly believe that a person who looks for joy in life can’t help but find it, no matter what sadness befalls them, and I try to live my life the way my grandpa does. I love and cherish the people around me and I always try to find the silver lining in situations, even the bad ones. I hope I will never know the hard times my grandpa has known but I love him all the more for his strength in weathering them and coming out the other side a better man. To keep from sinking into the darkness that the speech mentions takes a strength that he has in abundance.
It seems that dark times are upon us again, as they were when Grandpa was a child, and I hope that we can all find the strength to find and enjoy the silver linings that come with the dark times, as with the good. I just have to ask myself, “What would Grandpa do?” to remember to take the time to mourn the bad but not to let it ruin all the good I have in my life and all the good that is to come. Every bad situation comes to an end.
I hope my grandpa has many more birthdays and many more years and that he finds joy in every single one of his days.