My Grandpa's Lesson For America

Monday, I wrote about the need for respectful silence in the wake of senseless violence. One Facebook commenter noted, "We don't do grief well...anger, yes, but grief, no. Anger can lead us to act, lash out.....dare I say sin? Grief requires humility and patience.” That reminded me of a lesson passed down to me from my alcoholic and emotionally stunted grandfather.  

I think my Peepaw has a message from America.  

My paternal grandfather lived a hard life. He had reason to be mad at the world. And he had no one in his life who could model healthy emotional outlets. So he drank and he lashed out. Our family gatherings became gambles on the roulette wheel of will-Peepaw-behave? And it was a good bet that his mood would be either red or black. Driving home after one such gathering, my mom made an observation that has informed our family’s emotional life ever since. She said to my dad, “There are only two acceptable emotions in your family because they’re the only two your dad knows how to express: he can be happy or he can be mad.”  

Peepaw was a good man in a lot of ways. He was incredibly strong. He worked hard, supported his family, and loved as well as he knew how. In his later years, when he managed to escape from the bottle, he had some sweet times with his stalwart wife (Meemaw, in case you’re wondering.) But he didn’t have a gear for grief. He didn’t know how to express sorrow or regret or frustration. A life of hard knocks, limited education, and tumultuous family relationships had left him emotionally underdeveloped.  

I think something similar has happened to our country. We’ve had more than our share of difficulties lately. We’ve been watching the factions in our national family drift apart for some time. And we haven’t listened well to the voices who can help us navigate these hardships. As a result, we default to two acceptable outlets: anger or amusement. We check out with Candy Crush or we shout out about crushing our political opponents.  

Anger is easy to express. Distraction is easy to engage. But wisdom comes in the hard work of deeper reflection and more human interaction — of learning from Peepaw’s mistakes.