Objection Overruled

Got a call recently from my wife’s nephew, asking me to be Godfather to their newborn second son. Honored and humbled, do my best to do right by the kid, came the response.

Couple days later, another call, from one of my wife’s sisters. Their mother died that morning. It was not unexpected. She was 91 and since the summer, the chronology was predictable, sadness notwithstanding: Hospital, rehab, nursing home, hospice. Doesn’t make it any easier.

I’ve Godfathered before. The son of some good friends in Nebraska. He’s a teenager now and if you set aside his Husker gusto, he seems to be turning out just fine, though clearly, we need to ply the young man with more purple.

By the book, the Godfather presents the child at baptism and promises to take responsibility for their religious education. My interpretation of Godparenting is that it’s one of those Catholic traditions whose depth and import varies with the depth and import of your Catholicism.

I’m Catholic because my wife wants me to be and I like to make her happy. Born Protestant, but my life experiences have put me solidly in the ‘I’m not so much religious, as I am spiritual’ camp. My interpretation is organized religions are the infrastructure that allow those who choose them to express their faith.

And I’ve buried parents before. We lost my wife’s father nearly six years ago. My father died three years ago after an accident. When my older sister entered Pop’s hospital room in Wichita and sized up the enormity of the situation, she asked, “Where are the grownups?”

Uh… that’d be us, now.

This week, my own mother, who suffers from heart trouble, just like her father before her, enters a clinical trial, which may or may not buy her some extra time. Note to self: Pay attention to the genetics and step away from the cheeseburger.

On a recent visit, Mom loaded me up with a padded manila envelope full of family photos. She said I’m gonna get ‘em eventually anyway, so why not get a head start?

All manner of memories, many of which I had not seen or felt. Photos of my Mom as a child in Rooks County, her parents, grandparents, gathered for holidays, parties, Sunday dinner. The photos serve their express purpose, as I travel through time to witness my grandparents and parents as young people.

First cousins at their grandfather, Fred Bemis’ funeral, Hays, Kansas, May 1963. (L-R) Tom Bemis, Guy Bemis, Perry Bemis, Geri Ordway (my mom at 28), Linda Ordway and Bob Ordway.

First cousins at their grandfather, Fred Bemis’ funeral, Hays, Kansas, May 1963. (L-R) Tom Bemis, Guy Bemis, Perry Bemis, Geri Ordway (my mom at 28), Linda Ordway and Bob Ordway.

I’m struck by one particular photo of Mom, her siblings and cousins, who had gathered for their grandfather’s funeral in Hays in the spring of 1963. Mom was 28. I would have been 5. It was my first funeral. Thought about that last week as we buried my mother-in-law.

My son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first child around Valentine’s Day. Rather than opt for the gender reveal lollapalooza popular with many of their generation, they’re old schooling it. When the child emerges from the womb, then they’ll know, sans lollapalooza.

On the west coast, my younger brother’s daughter recently gave birth to her second daughter.

Babies abound. On both sides of the family.

This summer, my mom wants her three kids, her grandchildren, all the spouses and great-grandchildren under one roof. Our family is scattered throughout the land with busy, hectic, 21st century American lives, but in July, we’ll all gather at Tahoe.

My mother, from whom I inherited a deathly fear of heights and will have just celebrated her 84th birthday, wants to go up, up and away in a hot air balloon. Knock yourself out, Mom. Search the clouds for a star to guide us. I’ll be down here on terra firma, clinging desperately to Nevada, secure in my acrophobia.

As a grownup, my experience has taught me to keep it pretty simple. After the settlement conference in Religion v. Spiritual, I have learned that courage and humility come if we seek them and that our capacity for grace may well be limitless. That complacency, though a default, is not my friend.

Grandparents and parents grow old and die. Your children have children. Grownups emerge from ne’er-do-wells. I have a padded manila envelope chock full of evidence, your honor.

Perhaps when I’m 84, and by then a grownup emeritus, I’ll ignore a lifelong fear of heights and ascend to the heavens in a hot air balloon. I can visualize my son, nieces, nephews and their spouses, who will have become the grownups, scratching their heads, wondering if the old man has lost his mind.

Or maybe, just like his mother before him, he will have learned a valuable life lesson and will have come to recognize and offer testimony to the fact that fear can be overcome.