Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Bold (emotionally) (08/30/07)
By April Bailey
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It didn’t matter that he’d spoken these same words to me every week for the last four months. His face displayed the same excitement, the same spark, the same beautiful smile that always made it feel like the first time. My grandfather was trapped in time, stuck in a memory, reliving my thirteenth birthday like a scratched record replaying a song lyric.
For the moment, he was just stuck, but soon the slipping would resume. That’s how my mother had explained it to me. “He’s slipping, Imogene.” Slipping away, I guess, in the head. But, witnessing the progress of his illness, it seemed quite peaceful to me. Grampa seemed to be slipping into a beautiful valley—a valley of softness, of kindness—a place he’d never visited much when he was well. Before, he wore a shell of gruffness that kept him distant.
“Your grandfather is stern, Imogene,” Mom explained before Grampa got sick, “but he loves you.” It seemed strange to me that she needed to explain his style of love. When you’re a kid, stern comes off a lot like mean, and I basically tried to stay out of Grampa’s way during visits back then. Aside from an occasional stiff hug instigated by my mother, there was no genuine affection between us.
But with his slipping came boldness, an openness I’d never seen in him before. It was like a dam broke in his mind and he forgot to be so guarded, forgot he needed to work so hard at protecting himself from the world. This strange, mysterious ailment exposed him to us and, despite the fact that it was robbing him of his memories and would eventually demand his life, part of me appreciated its influence. He seemed to enjoy having me around, another first, and I felt like I could finally get to know my grandfather. Part of me wished he could stay this way forever.
As for my mom and grandmother, they were scared. To them, this man wasn’t “Daddy” or “husband.” He was someone new and unfamiliar, a stranger taking the place of the man they knew and loved. Each day, as Grampa smiled and laughed with us, they could only see how “unlike the old Earl” he’d become. His peers and children were witnessing a robbery, their loved one being stripped of himself. As for me, I saw only release. Perhaps this man, bursting with joy despite a dulling of the mind, was the real Earl. The free one. The one that could finally be free to love and share his thoughts and feelings with others … with me. I had never seen him happier, and that seemed pretty real to me.
The illness also softened his spirit, allowing him to meet God for the first time as well. My mother had tried to sow the hope of Jesus into her father for years, but his soil was rocky and dry, preventing the seeds of eternity from taking root. But with his disease came a fertilizing of spiritual ground, making Grampa eager to hear about truth and perfect love. He soon joined our family for a second time by giving his ailing body and longing spirit to the Lord.
“Happy Birthday, Imogene!” I felt no sadness in the hearing of these words. Only joy. When he spoke them, they meant that for the moment he was still stuck, not slipping, as my mother and grandmother feared. So, before each visit, I prayed to hear those words, knowing that one day I wouldn’t.
“I hope you’re having a great birthday.” He laughed, pressings our cheeks together.
“I am, Grampa! The best ever!”
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