We stood like soldiers in our black suits, protecting the casket of our departed grandmother. I had convinced the family to only allow the 3rd generation to move the casket, allowing my uncles to be with their families during the Mass and ceremony. As our aunts and uncles wept, we stood like statues in the sun.
Before we left the church, I'd made a deal with the Father to allow me to speak to the family before the lowering of the casket into the ground. I wasn't sure what I was going to say...but we'd been strong long enough. I'd been strong long enough. And I was ready to speak my peace before my family.
So as we stood huddled at the grave where my grandmother would be laid to rest, I did the best I could to say goodbye. (I spoke from the heart and don't remember the exact speech, but this was as close as I can remember):
"I know my mother has lost her mom, just like my other cousins. And we've done our best to be strong and support each of you in this time of grieving. We've heard hundreds of stories of your childhood...all of them wonderful.
"However we, the next generation have our own memories of Grandma. My eldest cousin is 51; my youngest is 16. I speak on behalf of your sons and daughters...each of us with our own wonderful memories of Grandma.
"We know she loved us because there was always food, and always a bed to sleep on.
"We know she worried about us, because she'd yell at us if we were climbing trees or near the grain silos."
"We know she thought of us, because she'd always buy us Christmas presents, even after we grew up."
"But what is important is that we, the third, fourth, and fifth generations here today, remember both our grandmother and grandfather. It's important to remember that we came from nothing, and that our family struggled to survive. Today we are successful teachers, nurses, bankers, and managers. But we can never forget that everything we are, we are because of the tireless work of Trina and Jesus Martinez...two migrant workers looking for a better life."
I made it through my monologue without losing it. And at the end of the day, after family members had thanked me for saying those kind words, I realized how important that charism of humility and ministry to the poor really was. Here I was....living the manufactured ideal of what success truly means: a good job, no worries of money, a nice car. Yet my grandparents, now both passed, lived good lives without half of the objects I currently own. How best to honor the lives of my ancestors? How best to give back the blessings that were given to me?
I learned two things, two important things, after finally returning to Grand Rapids. First I realized how attracted I was to the Franciscan sense of spirituality. Second, I learned if I could minister to my family, I could minister to anyone. I no longer felt inadequate, and I became excited at the thought of giving a homily, or just preaching wherever I can.
In the weeks after, I would deal with my workaholic tendencies, I'd struggle to continue my discernment, and I take a trip to Detroit.
Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps from the middle of September to the present.