Today, March 20th, is the first day of spring. I love spring. It is the time when the sun’s heat grows stronger and the earth is reborn in blooms of color. Spring is the ancient promise of how the world can emerge from darkness to light, from the detritus of fall and winter to the rebirth of grass and trees and flowers. My favorite symbol of spring is the cherry blossom. It is the perfect representation of life’s ephemeral quality: mysterious, beautiful, delicate and easily taken away with a strong, brisk wind.
All week, I have been contemplating the shrinking piles of snow out my window. Just this week I tucked seeds into soil in the pots in my kitchen. Herbs, tomatoes, peppers and more. There is hope in the change to come. Yet all week, I have been contemplating the other side of spring, too. We can have nothing new without losing something. There is no birth without death. The cycle is predictable and true, and often feels cruel.
My uncle, Jeff Edward Grant, died on Monday. He was only 54 years old.
He left this life and his family far too soon.
Uncle Jeff saved me from drowning once. I was very young, and although I don’t remember the incident exactly, I’ve heard the story recounted so many times that I can imagine it fully, like a movie replaying – me slipping under the murky water, the fear and disorientation, him observing me from the distance and diving in, swimming fast to my location so he could pull me up out of the water. He never hesitated.
He was in the U.S. Navy for twenty years and a veteran of the first Gulf War. I remember going with my family to meet his ship in Norfolk, VA. There was a party at his house afterwards and all the young guys who had worked with him came over to celebrate. It is always so revealing to see your family through the eyes of strangers. You could tell in the way they looked at him he had earned their respect.
He was the kind of guy who would sew you a pair of pillowcases. Because people need pillowcases. His stitches were straight and neat. On my grandmother’s 60th birthday he presented her with a handmade quilt that made her cry with joy and appreciation. We were all jealous because all of our gifts paled in comparison. None of us had been as thoughtful or generous with our time.
He loved animals. He was the kind of guy who would visit when you were constructing a feral cat shelter based on plans you found on the Internet and not really ask too many questions about why. When you sheepishly explained your desire to save the colony of cats that lived behind the Applebee’s where you worked, he didn’t miss a beat. He helped you build it. He made it better.
My uncle was the kind of man whose eyes sparkled with joy and humor. He laughed the hardest at jokes made at his own expense. It takes a humble person to accomplish this task. He was funny and his laugh had a distinct sound and it was all his own. You could pick it out even in a sea of other voices another room away. His laughter, like his love, carried far. I can close my eyes and hear the sound of it, even now.
I remember the joy that beamed from his face on the day he got married. It was a beautiful day. He and his new wife wore leis around their necks and in my memory the air is sweet, like the smell and taste of pineapple they had flown in from Hawaii for the ceremony. This was the way they wanted to honor and remember their trip together. I keep holding this idea in my mind, this picture of a kind of happiness we should enjoy and then share with others the best we can.
Jeff Edward Grant was many things to many people: brother, son, father, husband, friend, and uncle. He was one of the good ones. He loved his family. He was loyal and true. He wanted to protect those he loved. Even in his last few months of life, he didn’t want others to worry about his illness and be sad. He sheltered his loved ones from the gravity of his condition. This is the kind of selfless love he performed his whole life. I am honored to have known him and been his family. He will be remembered and greatly missed.
When the snow is finally gone I am going to plant a cherry tree outside my office window. I will do this act in his honor, to remember what is good and beautiful in this life. I will plant this tree as a reminder that life is too short and we need to love and focus on the good. We need to laugh at ourselves and share our joy with the world.