Sunday, March 08, 2015

Dr. Arthur Stanley MacNair, Jr., M.Div., D.D.

March 13th is the first of a triumvirate of sad death anniversaries for me- the 19th anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, known to some as Dr. Arthur Stanley MacNair, MDiv, DD, known to others as Stan, known to me simply as Grandpa Mac. Never Grandpa MacNair, never Grandpa Stan, just Grandpa Mac.

I have stared at this screen for the past ten minutes, a myriad of thoughts filling my head, none of which seem a good starting place for my thoughts. How do you summarize the life of an 82-year-old man who is simply the one person you most respect out of any you have known in your life? Well... you don't. You can't. There aren't enough books in the world to explain the unexplainable.

There is a story about three blind men who come across an elephant in the forest. One of the men feels the tusk and believes he has found a sword; another feels the legs of the elephant and believes he has come across a tree; the third feels the trunk and proclaims he has discovered a sword. The truth is that to attempt to define someone or something as the sole properties of just one of their parts is to do an injustice to that person or that thing. My Aunt Barb would have one view of her father; my friend Barbara would have another view of her pastor, teacher and mentor; as his grandson I only knew him for 30 of his 82 years, but my view of Grandpa Mac would differ entirely. All of these views, of course, would not be the final definition of the man but would be him all the same.

I am confident that friends of mine reading this would have loved the man, as he would have loved them. Lisa, you would have met a man committed to women's rights, equality, inclusiveness, and justice. Kate and Jason, you would have met a man whose answer to the problems of autism wouldn't have been an answer but an embrace and a willingness to be a support for you, as well as a willingness to shake the trees to find others to continue that support. Skip, my grandfather would have looked at your efforts to deal with bullying, smiled, and encouraged you to never give up. Melissa and Bill, my grandfather would have wept with you, laughed with you, and I would bet he even would have been willing to put on that pink wig for a quick picture. He was that kind of man.

In 1993 my father and I took a Greyhound bus out west to visit my grandparents in California. My grandmother, in typical fashion, had the whole week planned out for us- Alcatraz one day, Chinatown another day, and family dinners all around. Chinatown didn't happen because my father was sick, so I went to Berkeley by myself for a day, and my experiences in encountering different types of people blew my mind.

One night, after my father and grandmother retired for the evening, my grandfather sat in his chair and I sat in one opposite him, and we talked, not grandfather to child, but man to man. We discussed the Reformation, we discussed my frustration with the organization called "church", we discussed... well, a lot of everything. And as we got on the bus to return to real life, he put a hand on my shoulder and said "You came a boy, you're returning a man." Meaning, at least to me, that my relationship with my grandfather, and by extension my grandmother and aunts, was no longer higher and lower but eye to eye.

In 1995 my battles with mental health issues got the better of me and I was admitted to the hospital for three days. That year I wasn't real enthused about writing the annual Christmas thank-you notes; beyond "thank you" I never knew what to write to pad out the prose to make an acceptable letter. So I postponed them, and postponed them, and soon it was the end of January and I knew if I didn't get those thank-you notes out right quick then I would find myself shamed in the annual newsletter next year. So I thanked them for gifts whose identities are long since lost to the sands of time, told them that 1995 included a stay in the hospital for my depression, and sent them off.

At the time my grandfather was sick and didn't talk much. But when my grandparents received my letter Grandpa Mac got on the phone to me, and in a halting voice which still carried a certain authority he told me that he loved me.

And that was the last time I talked to him.

One morning he woke up unable to walk, so he was taken to the hospital, and then to the assisted medical wing of the complex my grandparents were living in. Three weeks later he decided that was it, he had lived a full life but it was time to move on. He refused food, and on March 13th he died.

March 13, 1996. April 6, 2001. May 4, 2004. The whole family dynamic changed after those three dates.

And yet, when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it bears much fruit. Grandpa Mac is gone, yet the ideals he lived for are ideals many still strive for.

Goodbye, Grandpa Mac. I came into this life a boy; hopefully when it is my time I leave a better man.

Thank you.