This post is for my grandfather, Ervin Ott, who just turned 86 and who reminds me, every time we talk that life is, at its core, Good, good, good…
Happy belated birthday, grandpa. I hope you get your wish.
My grandfather was never a man of many words. He was a man made of long silences and gentle stillness. He spoke when he needed to, but he never went on. It was as if the Great Depression had trained him to ration his words the way his family had once rationed food and cloth, as though if he used too many words, he might one day run out.
And then, one day, he did.
It was a cold, winter night. Snow covered everything for miles around my grandparent’s cabin. My grandfather went out to get more wood for the fire. No one noticed that it was taking longer than usual. He was prone to going walk-about or simply sitting out on the porch to silently gaze at the stars and trees and animals that wandered by.
Eventually my grandmother heard the scratching at the door, scratching that wouldn’t stop.
When she opened it, she saw my grandfather, lying on the ground, near frozen.
When the paramedics came, they told her that he had suffered a major stroke. The only thing that had saved him was the extreme cold, it had slowed the process down and, with luck, he would not lose all of his functionality.
My grandfather, never a man of many words, returned to us with what we thought was only one.
“Good.” Usually said in a long string, “Good, good, good…”
It was how he answered questions, how he expressed his mood, how he asked for more, or less…
“Good, good, good…”
When I called and told him how his great granddaughters were doing in school or with their new hobbies, I could hear the smile shining through his “good, good, good…”
When I told him about struggles or challenges, his tone would change and I would know that, “Good, good, good…” really meant, “Enough, enough, enough…” not to me, but to the world, “Enough, leave my granddaughter be…”
And then, after months of “Good, good, good” we learned that he had saved a few more words, a few choice words. Someone hurt his wife and he was there in a flash, “Shit, piss, goddamn it all!” he roared.
Once things were back to normal, and his wife was okay, everything was “Good, good, good…” again.
He still keeps those other words, for the rare moments when everything is wrong, but most days, everything is, “Good, good, good…”
When he heard his daughter was returning to the USA after more than a decade away it was, “Good, good, good…”
When he got another great granddaughter, she was, “Good, good, good…”
When his wife passed, without him there to hold her hand, he still said it was “Good, good, good…” with tears streaming down his face.
Marriages, funerals, births, illnesses, business successes and failures, political shenanigans, it’s all, “Good, good, good…”
My grandfather, never a man of many words, held on to just a few. And now he sits, like a wise laughing Buddha and reminds us that most days, most things, even when they seem challenging and hard and ugly, deep down, are actually “Good, good, good…”
I think about the words I use, the words I choose and I think about my grandfather, never a man of many words, and how in that moment when his world began to go black, the word he grabbed, the word he held onto, the word he chose to be his life raft was, “Good.”
It reminds me to take a moment to see the world through his eyes, to focus not on the suffering he experienced, or the hardships he faced, but on all the good that came from it. Sure there’s still the occasional Shit, Piss, Goddamn moment, but day after day, month after month, the Good, good, goods far outweigh the shit and the piss.
In the end, joy wins.
In the end, St. Francis of Assisi was right, “All the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.”
In the end, it isn’t the shit and the piss that matter, but the good, good, good that we make from it.
(This post was inspired by my mom, who reminded me how remarkable it was that “Good” was the one word my grandfather chose to describe his world. And by my friend, the insanely talented artist, Bryce Widom who has begun claiming 15 minutes a day to free-sketch without agenda. This post is the result of my Bryce inspired 15 minutes of free-writing this morning.)