Walking in Footsteps of Footsteps: When Birthdays Make You Way Too Sentimental on the Internet

About a week ago, right after getting home from work, Liesl wanted to go for a walk to push her toy lawn mower around the neighborhood. So, she and I headed up the street, pretend-mowing the concrete sidewalk. There I was, a 6-feet tall middle-aged guy walking with a 2-year-old toddler up the street. She was smiling, laughing, and enjoying the progress she was making cutting the invisible grass. That moment triggered one of my earliest childhood memories, of me being 3 and my grandfather walking to the park near the house we lived in in Colorado. I remember next to nothing about it other than walking and being happy to be with my grandfather. He would have been the same age as I am turning tomorrow.

As such thoughts are, it was both sad and sweet. My grandfather died 5 years ago. He walked a long life and part of it included helping take care of me and my older brother. He had a whole lot of work, difficulties, hopes, dreams, disappointments, failures, and successes. In other words, he lived a life. And eventually it was over. And I and our family continue to remember and miss him. The premature sense of haunting that hit me on the sidewalk, of course, was that someday I will be gone and this kind of walk, which Lord willing will be one of many more to come, will someday be a bittersweet memory for my daughter. I certainly hope I get nearly 40 more years like my grandfather got, for my own sake and for hers.

But that cheesy goth-poetry-like thought of gloom was not the only one I had. I also realized how ineffably grateful I was to be there in that moment. It was surreal to be walking in my grandfather’s footsteps and to finally be able to see something like what he saw and feel something like what he must have felt. I remember being in elementary school, junior high, high school, and beyond and having my grandfather recount stories about when I was a 3 or 4 and how he would be making me food and I would be standing there watching with my hands on my knees swaying back and forth with excitement and joy. He would tear up every time he would picture that moment and would try to explain how beautiful it was to him and how sad he was that such moments were now mere memories. I had thought I had understood what he was saying, but I am not sure I ever fully did get it. Until now. My daughter when she eats a treat or snack smiles, laughs, and dances around not out of intention, but of impulse from the joy and happiness of enjoying food and that moment of life and company that surrounds it. It is an amazing thing to see every time. Those moments are little gifts from God.

I love my daughter and son more than I can explain or even understand myself. That is a beautiful and scary mystery. And equally a mystery and hard to believe is something I think all of us who have such love for their children are confronted with: maybe, just maybe someone else felt the same way about me once, too. Because I know my own crap and shortcomings and faults, that is hard to believe. And yet there are my grandparents and my mother who were there for me when I was a toddler. And, of course, the even bigger extrapolation in this thought is that God cares for and loves all of us even more than the boundless love I feel for my kids. That is also easy to forget in such a beautiful and f-ed up world. But I believe it must be true and I will spend the rest of my life catching glimpses and reflections of that truth in my children lives lived out with and before me. My grandfather was not here forever and neither will I be. But I am so blessed and grateful that he was here and that I was there and that I am now here with my gift of a wife and our children. I did not expect any of this, but I would not trade it or these sehnsucht moments for anything ever.

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