Friday, May 16, 2014

Grandpa's Notecard

Life gets hectic. 

Time is short. 

We need to go here. We need to go there.

We need more STUFF!

When the mind fumbles and jumbles with desires and inconsequentials, the wisdom of the past reminds us that the most significant contribution to our sanity is not the amount or monetary value of our possessions. It is a simple thing. Like an old, stained, and worn 3x5 notecard. 

Let me explain.

My late paternal grandfather was the most even-tempered man I ever met. He witnessed much in his 90+ years: Two presidential assassinations (McKinley and Kennedy), the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the development of air and space travel, the transformation of the Industrial Age to the Information Age...

The 20th Century with all its change and turmoil, both good and bad, had to be be mind-boggling and threatening  The opportunities and pressures had to tear at at even the strongest psyche. (And we of the 21st Century have difficulty deciding between Netflix or Hulu.)

Grandpa was noted for his quiet patience, his integrity, his perseverance, and his willingness to take on a challenge.  His talents and efficiency cast in many crucial roles at work and in his community. The secretary at First Congregational Church of Berkeley (CA), after examining the church archives, told me, "Your grandfather held every office in this congregation except president of the Ladies Aid."

Berkeley? You mean...?

Yes, that Berkeley. Berkeley, California. Home of the Hippie. The only city I have ever seen with an officially-designated "Drug-Free Zone." I always wondered how Grandpa maintained his calm demeanor and positive outlook on humanity living amongst the social upheaval and day-to-day struggles of existence in that Pacific Pandemonium.

Last night, I discovered one way.

In preparation of the upcoming Mega-Purge of 2014, my wife and I spent the evening digging through old family papers and pictures to cull the precious from the "What-were-we-thinking-when-we-kept-that?" Among the legal documents, the pile of canceled checks, and innumerable travel slides my grandfather had accumulated, we found a peculiar stack of 3x5 index cards. We understood that the other material explained his terrestrial lifestyle. We discovered that this collection of notecards exposed the foundation of his spiritual survival.

Each item in the stack included handwritten a maxim, Bible verse, prayer, or self-disciplinary exercise which Grandpa used for inspiration and direction. The most important thoughts, the ones to which he referred repeatedly, he wrote in ink. Others, the ones that corrected wording or expressed his immediate reaction, he quickly scrawled in pencil. 

The once bright-white cards had discolored unevenly, some to dark gray, some to a brownish yellow. The hard edges of the cards curled limply, worn soft from shuffling. On some the script itself had faded, smudged by intrigued fingers rubbing across the most important words, the ones read and considered, read and contemplated, read and memorized .

One card stood out among the rest. 

Ink and tea stained, this was the only one with a heading: "Tranquility––Serenity." Two simple words written large, taking up two of the now-barely-visible printed blue lines. One long curving streak of dark ink underlining them emphatically. 

Beneath the heading read this simple passage in carefully formed letters: "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God. God alone is sufficient." 

Unlike the other cards, the handwriting here was larger, more legible. The only missing element was enough room to fully cite the source. This was not only uncharacteristic of the other cards, it was highly unusual for a man who meticulously labeled every book, every piece of furniture, every travel slide in his house before he died. Since the words were obviously most important, Grandpa obviously thought the speaker need only be known as a "16th Century mystic."

What Grandpa needed when he wrote this card was daily direction, plain words to reinforce his mental well-being, the assurance that "God alone is sufficient." That this promise was originally spoken by a Spanish nun (Sr. Teresa of Avila) was secondary. (For a complete modern translation, see the photo below.)

As indicated earlier, this notecard expressed the foundation of my grandfather's spiritual survival. Instead of accumulating fortune and stuff, instead of nurturing status and acclaim, he built on the card's assurance, cultivating relationships and exploring the vast beauty and mystery of God's world. Through the tragedies and triumphs of nearly a century of constant cultural chaos, four simple words comforted him, inspired him, molded him. Those four words ensured and enrich his legacy. 

I always knew words had power. I just didn't realize how much power could fit on a single 3x5 notecard.

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