Monday, August 29, 2005 was an eventful day.
On that Monday, tens of thousands of students ended their summer breaks and returned to school.
On that Monday, a hurricane named Katrina changed forever the lives of millions of unsuspecting people, and changed the course of American life, maybe forever.
And on that Monday, sitting in a coffee shop reading a book, I heard my phone ring. I answered to hear the voice of my sister telling me that Pop had taken his last breath and passed from this world into the next.
I hung up the phone. And in that moment the world changed.
Pop and I had no blood connection. He wasn't my biological anything. He was a nice old man who lived next door and gave out candy at church, a man who grew tomatoes and went to work every day, who had raised his kids and was enjoying his quiet life.
Pop and I had no blood connection. We had a connection that runs far deeper than any blood. We were connected by love.
I never knew either of my "real" grandfathers; death, illness, and distance robbed me of both of them. But I never realized the loss, thanks to this nice man who together with his wife took the two little girls next door into his home, and into his heart.
Perhaps even then he knew how much they needed him, and Granny, his wife. Perhaps he saw the pain in their lives at home. Maybe he knew. Maybe he didn't. I guess it doesn't matter in the end why it happened, only that it happened. Thanks to their love, and kindness, and generosity, blood no longer mattered, only love.
And so we became the "honorary grandchildren", the noise that invaded their quiet lives, the craziness invading their peace. And they became our grandparents, and their home a haven from the mean world, from hurts real and imaginary and fears that could easily overwhelm. Somehow, at Pop and Granny's, everything was OK.
In the effortless selfishness of a child, I don't think I was even aware of their lives outside of their interactions with me. I don't know what his favorite movie was, or if he read adventure novels or was a Beach Boys fan. I only knew he loved me.
The last time I saw him I sat beside his disease-ravaged body and held his hand and prayed for him, keeping a smile and a bright hope, knowing in my heart he was near the end. And I knew, without any doubt, sitting there next to him, that even though it was the end, that it was time, that he was ready. It was there I said my unspoken goodbye. I told him how much I loved him, I thanked him for loving me for the last 29 years. As I walked out of the door, I knew I would never see him on the Earth again.
So the phone call was no surprise. What was a surprise was the amount of pain his death has brought. Death comes as a shock to our system, and my soul rebels against its reality.
When I was 17 Pop taught me how to check my oil. Now, at 29, he teaches me how to look at the people around me and see not their words, not their brave face, but their need. He makes me want to be like him.
I miss you Pop. I will miss you for the rest of my life. I only hope that someday I can say that I grew up to be just like you.