On Seahawks, Seattle, and Centenarians

12:06pm, Superbowl Sunday

 “Grandad, how do you keep doing it?”

Even though I now know his answer, today I wish I could be next to him again. I wish I could hear, again, what he would say when I ask how he “keeps on keeping on.”

But I work in New York City. My apartment is only a few miles from the stadium where the Superbowl will be played today. And Grandad lives in Seattle where, because of his macular degeneration, he will sit only a foot or two from his widescreen TV, urging his Seahawks on.

Gdad and Seahawks game

Nothing would make me happier today than to celebrate a Seahawks’ win for my 104-year-old grandfather, who has waited a really, really long time for any Seattle team to triumph. So the game-stakes are high. But the idea that we are sharing the same football action through the airways somehow shrinks those 3000 miles of roadways that separate us.

If the Seahawks win, it is only a symbol of the victories my grandfather has gained while spanning his full century.

Of course, if Seattle loses, Grandad would wish it otherwise, but this loss will take nothing from the game of life he has already played so well.

2:43pm, Pre-game

I’m hoping that I will get a view of the Seattle skyline in this pre-game show. But the network is only panning Times Square—a view I see in person at least once a week.

During this Superbowl I am feeling superimposed. In my mind the Space Needle stands next to the Freedom Tower. And a snow-covered mountain towers behind them both.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to think of my grandfather and Mount Rainier simultaneously. Every long-distance drive, every cross-country flight, when, at its tired end I am graced with a view of the mountain, the supernatural blends into the familiar. No matter how long I have been away, no matter what else has changed, the mountain stands—the human mountain of my grandfather, standing in grace.

4:58pm, John Fox’s interview

Although I don’t want the Broncos to win, I can’t help but be impressed by head coach John Fox’s story. Just 3 months ago he thought he might die while undergoing his open-heart surgery. “I was at peace,” he said. “If God wanted me to go, I was ready. But I’m lucky he decided he wanted me to stay. It was a God thing.”

If I were sitting next to my grandfather right now, he would agree with John Fox. Grandad has outlived my grandmother, found love for a second time, and then recently lost this wife as well.

“It’s a God thing that I am still here,” he would say. “When the new century was coming up, I thought it would be great to live to the year 2000. And then after that I thought that turning 100 would be a good goal. But now I don’t have any more milestones I’m waiting to pass. I’m ready—whenever I’m supposed to go.”

Knowing Grandad is ready brings me peace as well. Someday when I return to Seattle, I will see the mountain and not the man. But I will remember how it has always been the man who has given me a sense of safety—even in the unknown.

Mt. Rainier

6:32pm, Game time

A safety? Really?

It’s not that I want to be near Grandad only to talk about the important, philosophical questions. Right now I wish I could just turn to him, sitting next to me in his easy chair, and ask why football calls what really is a mistake by the other team a “safety.” Is it because the 2 points give the fortunate team a margin of safety?

Grandad, and the life he has modeled, gives me more than safety. He fuels my hope for the future.

7:38pm, 22-0 Seattle

Although it is February and I am physically in my apartment just a few blocks from the Hudson River, mentally it is October and I am in Grandad’s apartment, just a few miles from Puget Sound.

The past and present of two winning football games superimpose over each other.

Grandad and I, together for a long autumn weekend, are savoring the Seahawks’ domination of the Titans. Grandad had flown me to the Northwest to let me ask all my questions of him. But really, there was only one question. And I asked it over and over.

“Grandad,” I persisted, “how do you keep on? How do you keep so positive? You’ve been through world wars and the Great Depression. You’ve lost so many that you love. How have you lived so long and with such integrity?”

“Good, clean living,” he joked.

But then he grew serious.

“I guess I’ve been able to gain perspective after all these years. A perspective of looking back. I can look behind me at all the hard things I went through. But then I don’t remember how bad those times felt. I’ve learned that misery passes. Now, when something happens that makes me unhappy, I remind myself that only a few days or weeks later I won’t feel that way anymore. In fact, I might not even remember the event at all, much less the negative feelings that went with it.”

“That’s part of what I mean,” Grandad continued, “when I say, ‘this, too, shall pass.’ By understanding that bad feelings fade fast, I can focus instead on what’s positive in my life.”

8:08 Halftime

“This, too, shall pass,” Grandad had said.

But what about those moments where I wonder if life is passing me by—those days when I feel I’m missing something? What about those happy times—like right now—when the Seahawks are winning, and I wish I could be enjoying the experience with those I love—with those who are far away?

“Do those thoughts add stress to your life?” Grandad’s voice is asking this inside my head.

“Of course they do,” I say out loud.

And then I remember another of Grandad’s maxims that has helped him live a long and healthy life: avoid stress.

“How old were you when you learned to do that?” I had asked him during that October weekend.

“Oh, I think I was about 100,” he had said.

I am only halfway to that age. Can I learn some of what Grandad is trying to teach me before I reach it? All I know is that will try. And the rest will be a God thing.

9:56pm, 43-8 Seahawks

I am ecstatic. Grandad is ecstatic. He didn’t need this win to be at peace. But I sure wanted it for him.

And yet these good feelings, too, eventually will pass.

“Grandad? How do you do it?” I asked him one last time when we were together in the fall. “When it’s hard, or when you’re lonely? Or when you’re happy but still missing those you love, what do you do?” 

Dick's photo

Even though he only has peripheral vision, Grandad looked me straight in the eyes.

“It’s about what’s on the inside,” he said. “For most of my life I was worried about what other people thought of me. I cared about making, and keeping, a good impression. Almost everything I did was a performance. For me it was all external instead of being internal.”

“But remember, Sara, it’s the intrinsic that matters. Listen to what that voice inside is telling you. And keep on growing.”

Grandad took me by the shoulders and kissed me.

“Become a better person because it’s what you want to do,” he said, “not because of what someone else is telling you to do.”

And I will. Because it’s the intrinsic that matters.

This is his answer. This is my answer. And all the rest is a God thing.



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