My grandparents have aged in the last year, noticeably. With their children grown and their grandchildren far away at college or working in big cities, they decided in 2012 to change their lives and move into an elderly community. These days my grandpa can't, or won't, maintain a telephone conversation for more than about three minutes. And my grandma often keeps me on the phone for 30 minutes wandering from this topic to that, repeating stories she told me last time, or one by one going through the grades and latest hobbies of all my many cousins. I know someday I'll miss these rambling chats, but in the moment they confuse and frustrate me.
Speaking of frustration, I find myself quickly losing patience with her lack of computer literacy. Now equipped with a hand-me-down Mac laptop from my teenage cousin, Grandma is nobly striving to learn how to use email, which she often mistakes for the Internet, itself.
"When I get email, will I be able to read your blogs?" she asks me every time we speak.
"Well, yes," I stammer, "I could email you my blogs. But technically you don't need email to read them."
She chuckles self-consciously, chides herself, and asks shyly if I wouldn't mind mailing her a few blogs until she's able to read them online. And I sigh, feel guilty for my frustration, and tell her, "Of course, I would love to."
I put it off for several months. Ran out of printer paper, misplaced my stamps, the usual lame excuses that keep me from maintaining contact with my loved ones the old-fashioned way. Facebook messages take about five minutes to craft and click "send." Phone calls are a bit trickier, but still fairly painless and usually brief. Writing letters and mailing little gifts take time, effort and a bit of planning. We like our relationships to be quick and easy, like our meals, shopping and entertainment. Letter-writing is sort of retro and fashionably sentimental, but even for hipster points you're only going to take the time for someone you're fairly invested in. It took me months to put together that package for my grandparents, but bear in mind that they are just about the only people in the world to whom I ever write real letters.
One cloudy day over the holidays, I found myself sick and home alone. With my parents' printer on hand and mountains of white paper begging for use, there was no longer any excuse to delay. I skimmed over the 100 or so blogs I've written over the past nine months, and carefully selected several that seemed representative, and which I thought they'd enjoy. "Biodiversity," "cosmic consciousness," "inner-city yoga," "aging and brain health." A sampling of topics I've covered since graduating college last spring.
I threw one in there as an act of rebellion, a recent article I wrote for The Huffington Post on a pagan gathering I attended in early December. My grandparents are liberal and open-minded, but we've never discussed my alternative spirituality, let alone my regular participation at goddess rituals. Small talk isn't the time to describe dancing around flaming cauldrons and invoking the goddess of spring -- and certainly not small talk with the 80-year-old members of my family.
I placed that article on top of the pile, knowing it would be the first thing, after an accompanying letter, they saw when they opened the big white envelope. It was with curiosity and slight apprehension that I awaited their phone call. When it finally came, I couldn't wait to hang up. My grandmother went through each of the blogs I'd sent, praising them individually and methodically. She seemed to be strategically avoiding the one of which I was most interested, and most reluctant, to hear her impression. But just as I was hurriedly thanking her and trying to change the subject, she surprised me.
"And the one on the pagan gathering? So interesting! That 'Star-hawk,' does she do this kind of thing often?"
Embarrassed and surprised, I responded, "Well, yes, actually. Starhawk is a leader in the pagan community. She hosts rituals fairly often."
"You know ... I was thinking, what you describe about 'paganism' ... it sounds a lot like Unity!" She sounded overjoyed to make the connection, to discover a common thread between our faiths.
My grandparents belong to Unity Church, a sect of progressive Christianity that emphasizes the teachings of Jesus Christ through practical application in daily life. Affirmative prayer, embodied spiritual values, seeing the good in all people and things ... these are indeed common themes in the faiths my grandparents and I practice. Somehow the words "pagan," "goddess" and "ritual" didn't distract my grandmother from this truth. Admittedly, I expected they would. But I'd rather be humbled than smug, and I love my grandma all the more for proving me wrong.
There are people in my life far younger, hipper and more alternative than my grandparents who crack jokes or stare blankly when I bring up my spiritual beliefs. Age isn't the obstacle, and clearly youthfulness and a liberal education aren't guarantees of openhearted acceptance. My generation is eager to accept alternative lifestyles, deconstruct old values and invent new modalities of diversion -- from iPhone applications to video games to witty, ironic rom coms and more. We are a not a generation of letter writers.
Faith requires the wisdom of the heart. It's a risk and an investment and altogether too earnest for many millennials. Much like letter-writing, maintaining a spiritual practice takes time and patience. It springs from an enduring love that knows no shortcuts, that revels in the unpredictability of a lifelong path.
At 80, my grandmother understands this and relates to it. In my spirituality she sees compassion, reverence, and a bit of blessed irrationality so fundamental to the very practice of faith. I don't care if she ever learns to use her computer. Honestly, even if she did, I would continue writing her letters, mailing her my blogs and enjoying long chats, in person and over the phone. These are sacred aspects of our relationship, things I wouldn't exchange for all the technology in the world. Go ahead and call me "old-fashioned." It would be an honor.
Read more of Antonia's blogs on Intent Blog!