They sent me home to get the music.
On a Friday afternoon in June, we were celebrating the 90th birthday of my wife’s grandfather. He remains a healthy and vibrant man, a gift to all who have known him. As he eases into his tenth decade, he quietly laments that this may be his last year of gardening. His party was a true celebration of life.
Yet, the celebration was missing something. Music.
So, I was sent home to pick up my portable speaker. A thirty-minute round trip to ponder this man who cared for his granddaughter—the woman I love so much—at a time in her childhood when no other man was around to do so. I’m a words guy, and I like to memorialize such moments with a toast. Thirty-minutes to ponder what I wanted to say about my kids’ great-grandfather.
And I blanked.
I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say about him. It was disconcerting. For a moment, I even began to question the sincerity of my affection for him. But then I got still. And I simply listened. Then, eventually, this voice of grace:
You don’t want to toast him; you want to hug him.
When his days are done you will, in a way, still be able to speak to him; but once his days are done, you will no longer be able to hold him. His soul is as young as it ever was and as young as it will ever be, but this heartbeat of a body is nearly over. This blink-of-an-eye substance will vanish. This fleeting, fickle physicality will be finished. Soon, you won’t be able to feel the weight of him in your arms. You won’t be able to hear him call you “Flanagan” and feel him pull you in close for one more joke from his bottomless supply. Soon, he will fill the world with his spirit, but his reading chair will be empty.
I just wanted to hug him.
It made me think about my wife and my children and my family and my friends. Someday, they too will be gone from me, or I will be gone from them. Either way, I will miss them, and more than anything, I will miss their materiality. I will miss the flesh-and-blood stuff. The stuff you can only sense with a body. The stuff of light and sound and odor and mass.
I will miss the sensation of my wife’s toes finding mine, under the covers, in the darkness. I will miss the feel of my daughter’s fingers as they find mine in a busy parking lot. I will miss the cool, metallic smell of my son’s hair as the sun dives early beneath the horizon on a crisp, clear autumn afternoon. I will miss the steely strength in my other son’s eyes when he knows he’s right and I’m wrong—it’s not just spirit; it has a color, a shape, a shimmer, and I will miss all of it.
I will miss the beautiful stuff you can touch, taste, smell, hear, and feel, and I will miss the ugly stuff, too. I will miss boogers wiped in out-of-the-way places. I will miss cuts that bleed and scrapes that make showers miserable for a day or two. I will miss the messes my kids make and, hopefully, the messes my grandkids will make. Someday, my body will be gone from theirs, or theirs from mine, and I will miss it all.
For too long, I’ve thought of the body as a cage, an imperfect, deteriorating container in which our souls restlessly pace, longing to finally be set free. I confess: I’ve failed to see atoms and cells and tissues and organs and bodies for the gift that they are. I thought the body was the hiding place of the divine; now, I wonder if it is the completion of the divine. The culmination.
Souls can feel joy, but only bodies can laugh.
Souls can feel sorrow, but only bodies can weep.
Souls can feel love, but only bodies can make it.
Only bodies can hug. Only bodies can hold each other. Only bodies can snuggle during bedtime books. Only bodies can tickle each other. Only bodies can play in the pool in a strange aroma of chlorine, sweat, and sunblock. Only bodies can splash in puddles together. Only bodies can agree upon the best pizza place in town. Only bodies can feel the air cool, listen to Sinatra on the portable speaker, watch great-grandkids hide and seek each other in the gloaming. Only bodies.
That’s what I will miss.
The flesh-and-blood gift.
That’s what I will miss about my wife’s grandfather when he is gone.
That’s what I will miss about all of us.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.