Grandchildren, Grief, Grace & Gratitude

Tom-of-the-coast-of-Maine-2Most of the posts on this blog deal with social and political issues.  This post is more personal but I hope that it resonates with other grandparents whose lives and hearts have been transformed by the arrival of a new, small, speechless, innocent person:  their grandson or daughter.

Just about two months ago our family was gifted with a new member who weighed just over seven pounds.  As any new grandparent, I was overjoyed at the birth and anxious to meet my grandson.  He was born in Hawaii and my wife and I live in Rhode Island so we boarded a plane and eagerly headed West.

As I expected just seeing, touching, holding and smelling this precious infant filled me with joy and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for his life and for the opportunity, along with other members of the family, to nurture him along life’s way.  I doted over him as did my wife and his parents who showered him with love.  He was/is cherished.  I watched his parents care for him.  I watched my wife care for him. I watched my in-laws care for him. And, I care/d for him myself.

A surprising thing began to happen to me as my heart opened and embraced my grandson.  The more I cherished him, the more aware I became of a feeling of sadness stirring deep within me.  I was  perplexed.  Where was this sadness coming from in the midst of such joy?  Was I suffering a bout of depression that I had struggled with earlier in life?  Why were my hands shaking? Why did I feel joyful and a bit empty at the same time?

It took several weeks and the help of others, like my wife, to recognize what was going on.  The joy and hope I felt as I held my grandson had awakened long repressed and pre-verbal memories of my own childhood.  My grandson was clearly loved and I knew he felt that love even though he could not speak or understand the spoken word.  He could feel it in the most primal of ways.

Although I imagine that my parents did the best they could, I never got this primal message of being cherished and protected.  Somehow my core feelings were loneliness, fear and trembling.  The love I felt for my grandson was naturally and inexorably putting me in touch with a deep sense of grief.  I was/am grieving never feeling those primal feelings of love and safety.

Grieving like this has been a very good thing.  It has made me much more profoundly aware.  Letting feelings come to the surface and sharing that grief with others like my wife, siblings, children, friends and readers of this blog is enabling me, at age 68, to consciously and positively incorporate my sense of loss during my own infancy and childhood into the man I am today.

My grandson and the love I have for him has opened and deepened my heart and I can feel joy without having to psychologically bury the pain of the past.  Each day of my grandson’s life is a day in which I can feel real joy without having to repress the negativity of my own childhood.    For this grace, I am deeply grateful.

Enough about me.  I would prefer to meditate on the grandchildren everywhere who bring new life and hope both into world at-large and into the lives of everybody who has the chance to love and nurture them.  They are all grace-in-the-flesh.

Are God and human rights self-evident?


The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence begins with these immortal and oft quoted words:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These statements may have been self-evident truths to Jefferson and many of the other founding fathers of this nation in 1776, but in the year 2015 (and for some considerable time before that) a great many people, while still holding that all human beings are of equal value and are possessed of the unalienable rights referred by the Declaration , no longer base that claim on the idea that there even is such a thing as a creator to endow anybody with anything.thomasjefferson_sm

The word “self-evident” in common English usage means something akin to “obvious.”  In the Declaration, Jefferson is making the claim that the existence of a creator is obvious.  He is also making the claim that this creator has intentions for humankind and bestows rights on us so that we might pursue those intentions.  Put another way, he is saying that it is obvious that there is a God/Creator, that this God has created human beings with rights and, by implication, these rights are not to be abridged because they are divinely bestowed. This argument is analogous to the argument for the divine right of kings to which the republicans of Jefferson’s time were so opposed.  Whether ruling by divine right or living as a free citizen by divine right,  Jefferson is saying that his conclusion is obvious.  But is it really?

One need not be an atheist or agnostic to have problems with the “obviousness” of the existence of a creator.  All three of the major Western religious traditions present themselves as “revealed” religions; i.e., dependent on God to reveal him/herself through a prophet or spokesperson of some sort.  They do not make the case that the particular God whom they reveal is in any sense self-evident.

What is obvious, however, is that many people belief in a divine creator and ground their notion of the rights of human beings on that belief.  Belief in a creator is much more self-evident than the existence of that creator and, I suppose, that is what Jefferson assumed when he penned the Declaration.  He no doubt hoped to make the case for the nascent United States an obvious one–a “no brainer,” so to speak.

The philosophical, theological and general intellectual framework of the early 21st Century no longer presupposes the existence of a creator God or any God at all for that matter.  Advances in physics and cosmology have raised all sorts of questions  about the nature of matter, energy, time and space.

The more we learn; the more things become less “self-evident.”  Once obvious observations about nature are demonstrated to be illusory as science delves deeper into the nature of the cosmos.

The Declaration of Independence is surely an important document in the history of our nation and political science in general, but since it grounds its claims on the existence of a creator (whose existence was once obvious but is no longer so), it should not be used as a cornerstone for building individual, social or political ethics.

In this post-modern, pluralistic age, building an ethic on the existence of a creator is to build that ethic on a highly debatable and not self-evident premise.  The two lines quoted above might better be put in something like the following form to avoid the use of a potentially false premise while still advocating for human equality and rights:

We hold these principles to be inviolable: all human beings are of equal value and that this equality entitles them to certain permanent rights among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While my restatement may lack the historical ring of Jefferson’s famous lines, it avoids the assumption of the existence of God, establishes ethical principles as ideals affirmed by a people and avoids exchanging the divine right of kings for the divine right of a citizens.  In short, it separates church from state, as they should be.