Hindsight’s 2020

In Louisiana Ladies, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

My 92-year-old grandmother has a Facebook page. She’s never been a fan of missing out on the action. Instead, she chooses to be in the middle of it. So during this time, when I’m convinced that the whole world’s gone crazy, I decided to engage her perspective.

In all honesty, I got what I was searching for in the first 2 minutes of our conversation. As we sat in her formal living room among black and white photos of all she has grown to know and love, I asked “What do you know for sure?”

Her answer surprised me. The knowledge wasn’t one she had earned on her own, but one that was passed down from her mother. She remembered, “My mama used to say, ‘Life is a two-handled pitcher. There’s a handle of fear and a handle of faith. You get to choose how you pick it up.’”

It was the truth I needed as lately my faith in mankind has waned. I was stuck somewhere between fear and faith. Each day brought a new emotion: fear of change, guilt for the privilege history has granted me, sadness for the injustice and division in our world, appreciation for the sigh of relief the slowdown has provided. There were so many emotions. What did it all mean? How are we to move forward?

We talked some more. My grandmother was born in the summer of 1928 just 16 months before the stock market crash called Black Tuesday. She has lived through the Great Depression. World War II, the polio outbreak, Vietnam, Integration, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy, terrorist attacks, and the list goes on. And while she admits that her life has been marked as a happy one, she has not gone without her share of heartache.

Prior to the Great Depression, her father worked in healthcare administration. As the country sank deeply into monetary trouble, her father lost his job. Shortly afterward, he joined the police force where he spent his entire working career. My grandmother remembers watching him change from the happy-go-lucky man he was previously. “My daddy once told me that we are the sum total of all our experiences. I think that change in his career — things he saw — changed him.”

Still, her mother worked hard to give her kids a happy childhood. My Muney can remember attending each Shirley Temple movie with her mother twice. The goal was that my grandmother would learn the dances and her mother would learn the songs on the piano. Then they would go home and sing and dance the day away in the living room. She admits that her father’s job kept she and her two brothers out of the long food lines in which many had to stand. She was one of the lucky ones. 

After graduating from college at age 21, she married my grandfather. Their marriage was marked by four healthy children and two miscarriages. They enjoyed a long, decorated career in the educational system of which my grandad’s largest challenge was leading Captain Shreve High School through desegregation. It was a time when national and local tempers flared. Muney lost her mother to cancer and her brother to a tragic accident. In 2008, a few months short of their 60th wedding anniversary, she lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s. My grandfather used to joke, “Fifty-eight wonderful years, and two that weren’t worth a damn.” He liked to leave you wondering which two weren’t his favorites.

All in all, she and my grandfather created a family unit that includes 47 people. That’s a lot of personalities and opinions. That’s a lot of potential for mistakes and arguments. But with a motto of “Just Do Right” and an expectation that family comes first, to this day that family unit is in relationship with one another. That’s to my Muney’s credit. We all grew up around her Sunday lunch table where happy, sad or indifferent, we walked through it together.

Looking back, Muney’s grateful. She views her life, her challenges, through the lens of having had “a good life.” It’s evident that she chose to pick up life’s pitcher by the faith handle. In response to COVID-19, she had this to say. “I know more people in Heaven than on Earth.” She’s not concerned.

Given all the injustice in the world, it’s easy to look upon another’s life and classify it as privileged or challenge-free, certainly easier than most. But the truth is that we all have our own plate of trouble that another will never truly understand. That’s why kindness is so important. So much of our lives are marked by grace. I believe that our happiness depends on how much of those experiences we chose to integrate into the DNA of who we choose to become. Our sum total and how it defines us is a choice.

So far 2020 has presented itself as something eerily similar to the end of days forecast.

It also happens to be the year I decided to read through the Bible cover to cover. As I’m reading, I’m not sure if I prefer my previous ignorance better. It certainly was more comfortable. Education bears responsibility. There is no turning back. 

Regardless of what you believe, each day that we live is one less than we had the day before. Whether we want to admit it or not, time’s running out. I feel the need to press into my current reality and get it right moving forward.

Before leaving my grandmother’s house, she shared this story with me. She said that later in his life her grandfather lost a significant amount of his ability to see and hear. Nevertheless, he continued to attend church. One of the congregants asked him one Sunday why he kept coming if he couldn’t understand what was being said. His response was that he “want(ed) everyone to know whose side he was on.” Don’t we all?