Monday, April 30, 2012

Grandfatherly Thoughts

I am starting to get used to this. Grandfatherhood, that is. We have three grandchildren; the youngest is just two weeks old. They are all boys, and all bear the names of Hebrew prophets - Noah, Jonah, Elijah. We call them the OTG - the Old Testament Gang.

The three year-old calls me Gandpa and my wife Gamma. (He can’t yet say his Rs.) The one and a half year-old calls me something similar, but it is hard to make out exactly what. 

While I was driving the other day I waited while an elderly man slowly crossed the parking lot that I was trying to exit. “Come on, Grandpa!” I mumbled impatiently under my breath. Then I realized that I was a grandpa too! I quickly changed my tune . “Take all the time you want, great-grandpa. One day I will be you, God willing.”

As I look at my newborn grandson - so small - just seven pounds, I contemplate the incarnations that we go through in life. Our bodies grow, change and age. I read somewhere that every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years. That means that physically we are entirely new persons many times during our lives.

I have been through eight bodily reincarnations since my birth, and I am halfway through my ninth. When contemplating this phenomenon, it is clear that I am not my bodies. They come and go, yet I remain. Neither am I my beliefs - whether political, social, ethical, or religious. I have changed those so many times I have lost count.

Neither are we are our personalities. Those are not permanent either. The thoughts, emotions, preferences, and memories that make up our personalities are dependent on the health of our brains, as any family of an Alzheimer's patient knows.

Yet I have always had the sense that I am me, even though my self-understanding has changed. But if I am not my body, my beliefs, or my personality, then who am I? Am I just the fleeting illusion of a self created by the firing of brain synapses. If that is true, then I will perish when my brain dies.

If I am more than the illusion of a self, then I must be what remains when all that is temporary passes away. I must be what is permanent. I am who I was before my body was born and who I will be when my body is dead. 

I held my newest grandson minutes after he was born. Who is he? His name means “The Lord is God.” Who was he a year earlier? Who will he be a hundred years from now? I look into his eyes and see the answer. This is who I was, and am, and will be - the image of God - created to reflect God on earth and for all eternity.

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