My dad’s mom died the year I turned twelve. I have a few memories of her but they lived far away, and we saw them infrequently.
After she died, though, Grandpa Andy spent quite a bit of time with us every year. I got to know him pretty well.
Like everyone else, he had his little quirks and idiosyncrasies.
One I remember clearly. Grandpa never expected others to clean up after him. And, although “cleaning up” means different things to different people, after his second morning coffee, he always cleared his dishes, rinsed them, and left the tidiest table possible.
Here’s the quirky part: you know that stainless, sink strainer/plug piece? the one that catches all of the leftovers before they go down the drain? the one that you empty into the trash before you fill the sink?
Well, like many other things, Andy saw a different purpose.
After carefully rinsing off his plate, he would let the strainer collect all of the crumbs and chunks … and then he just turned it over, tapped it a couple of times on the bottom of the sink, and watched the garbage go right down the drain. Those very food bits and pieces that most of us are trying to keep OUT of the drain, he disposed of in his own way.
We have something similar in our shower, intended to keep hair from collecting and clogging up the drain. We clean it out regularly to save ourselves the ugliness of drain hair clogs (UGH!).
Now, I am [this many] years old, rediscovering and evaluating memories. So, pardon me for overthinking, but I believe I figured out how Andy saw the function of the strainer. As I was finishing up my shower yesterday, it dawned on me that hair is not the only thing kept from going down the drain by that strainer – it could be a ring or shampoo cap or a contact lens or anything a 3-or-4-year-old might bring into the tub. It could be anything we treasure or need or simply don’t want to replace.
Some of the things we keep from flowing into the pipes are things we want to save, not things we simply want to recycle or compost.
I know it annoyed my mom pretty much that Andy kept defying the law and purpose of sink strainers. I know she cringed every time he approached the sink, wondering what would end up down the drain that she would have much rather end up in the trash.
But I think Grandpa Andy saw the strainer as more the hero than the clean-up man. Maybe his beloved Violet lost her favorite earrings while doing the dishes one day, and he vowed there would always be a guard so it would never happen again. Maybe he had to take the plumbing apart the day the baby’s precious silver spoon disappeared down the drain.
Maybe, to Andy, the simple stainless sink strainer was not designed for the thrifty and careful but for the sentimental hope-chest fillers. Those who would rather lose $100 bills to the wind or the plumber than lose one first-cut lock of hair.
When we went to his funeral, I think he was 95, there were few people I knew. He’d lived in a retirement home in Nebraska for a long time, and we didn’t see him as much. But I was overwhelmed by the number of people who told me stories about the wonderful man who helped everyone he could. About a simple life of changing lightbulbs and rehanging pictures for the widows who adored him and paid him back in cookies. Or making custom toys for children who needed something just a little different. Or being a beacon of light and love in the church for as many years as he could.
Yes, I am this many years old and I am constantly blindsided by the what I didn’t learn and don’t know. And not just about my forefathers.
I look back at church and school and recognize the gaps in my education – the ways in which I was shielded from the ugliness of our collective history. The ways in which I was led down a path of entitlement and comfort. The ways I let myself ignore things evil or selfish and focus on the “blessings.”
And I’m shattered by how these narrow views of the world create the deep divisions we are living with today. And these viewpoints are both sharpened and clouded by the unholy concept that you are either all in with me or totally against me. We can’t – or don’t want to – see that very few things in life are black and white, up or down, yes or no.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’ve had the my way/highway frame of mind more times than I’d like to admit. I have a long history of digging my heels in about issues that are so much less clear or absolute to me now.
I am convinced that worldly concerns, questions, and debates are seldom solved by quoting chapter and verse or appealing to human tendencies and viewpoints. When we plant our flags defining “pro-life” or judge the life choices others make, when we cannot agree about what it means to “protect our country,” well, when it comes to those arguments and discussions, I think the color we walk through should be grey.
I don’t know if my mom and Andy ever talked about this. It seems rather insignificant and my mom, like me, was reluctant to ruffle any feathers over something so minor. After all, she wasn’t entirely right and he wasn’t entirely wrong.
But the question is, am I learning to think more like an Andy?
I hope so.
Because, my lovelies, I would rather save the first-cut lock of hair and the wedding band than any of the $100 bills. I would rather simply help my neighbor change a lightbulb than live a life of luxury and leisure, supported by good fortune and wise investments, without caring for the world.
I would rather ask “Why do you feel so strongly about this?” than say “You must be crazy.” Because if it’s more important that we save the wedding band than save a call to the plumber, we must ask the question rather than go for the jugular.
For most of the problems or dilemmas or controversies facing us, large or small, day in and day out, neither side is all right or all wrong. Do I like to consider someone else’s point of view – especially when they have resorted to blocking or ignoring me, or calling me stupid?
Nope, I don’t.
But truth be told, the best solution for the human condition will not come from either end-zone. The best solutions will come from a humble approach, open minds, and open ears.
Are there non-negotiables? OF COURSE THERE ARE!!! (And if you are interested in reading mine – again – here you go.)
But not everything has to be a fight. Maybe our black or white needs to get a little muddy and grey.
Maybe we can see the strainer as both the hero and the clean-up man. Maybe we can see the other side as neither the enemy nor the fool.
I don’t usually ask you to stay tuned… but I might be talking about some of these grey areas in the future. You just never know.
Until then, when we write and read again, I pray for you …
Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash