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Not duty, but joy

Once or twice a year, I find myself in Dublin for work. It’s a nice enough city. Like Amsterdam, the hotels are (on the whole) disappointing, but the Guiness is good and I enjoy both the compactness of the city centre and the weather. Also, the food in our office has improved dramatically in recent years.

But Dublin is also a city of sad memories for me. In October 2009, the day Andrew and I got home from one of my favourite-ever holidays (to Dubrovnik), my grandmotherfell while standing up . She was 97. She broke her hip, and while she lived for about 6 weeks afterwards, she never really recovered. I’m thankful for having made it home to say goodbye, and that she died at my parents’ house, with her family at her side, but I do miss her. On Saturday night I had an extremely realistic dream of visiting her at the apartment where she lived until her accident, and halfway through the dream I realised it was a dream. I was still sitting next to her, but dream me was crying at the realisation.

I still remember the hotel room where I was sitting when my mother called me with the news. I can still remember prosaic things like the location of the switch for the heater under the tiles of the bathroom floor. I can still remember searching online for a parish in the neighbourhood where I could go to mass before work the next morning. I can still remember the mass itself. In fact, I still go to morning mass at the same parish every time I’m in Dublin.

My grandmother was probably the most remarkable person I’ve ever known. Her quiet piety, her love for all of creation, her selfless support for the people in her life. There are so many things about her that I try (and fail) to emulate, and I’m extremely grateful for having grown up with such a strong model of unconditional love.

When I was in graduate school, I spent 5 or 6 months each year in Spokane, and at least once a week I’d take her out to lunch and to run errands. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t impress upon her how much I enjoyed those afternoons–that I didn’t spend time with her out of duty, but out of joy.

I suppose I’m extremely lucky to have a family where that line is so blurred. I remember in autumn of 2008–about a year before our grandmother’s accident–my cousin Christine and her now husband came to visit London, and stayed with me. It took us a few days to realise that we wanted to spend time with each other: I was worried about intruding on their holiday together, and she was worried about intruding on my daily life, but in the end we figured out that it wasn’t duty but joy. And that’s a nice feeling.

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