Opinion

Nothing lasts, and yet no one who is loved really dies

Every few months I take an outing with my three granddaughters that I call, "Shop With Your Pop 'Til He Drops Day."

I do the same thing with my two grandsons. I have to separate the girls from the boys now because they don't want to do remotely the same things on their day out, and a co-ed trip quickly disintegrates into a sibling donnybrook, with me in the middle trying to referee.

This past Sunday was the girls' turn. I taught an adult Sunday School class that morning, then preached, then immediately drove 50 miles to pick up the kids, so by the time I got to their house I was already half-whooped.

Then we drove to Lexington, Ky., and had our usual lunch at First Watch, which the four of us all like. They wanted to start the shopping trek at Target. After Target, we went to the mall, where those girls -- ages 15, 14 and 11 -- dragged me through every girlie store from one end to the other of that massive cathedral of consumerism.

They giggled and bickered and one-upped each other. The youngest granddaughter broke into dance in a store aisle. A pink cowboy hat she tried on inspired her to a choreographed hoedown from, I assumed, "Oklahoma!" (My wife tells me it was probably Beyonce's "Texas Hold 'Em," so what do I know?)

The girls needed to explain to me what half the stuff they were looking at even was: war paints and doodads and accouterments outside any frame of reference I've ever had.

By the time we reached what must have been the mall's third wing -- or its eighth? -- I was way beyond half-whooped. I was in tongue-hanging-out, back-aching, feet-throbbing geezer mode. This Pop was dropping fast.

I was about to suggest we head to the house when I had an unexpected, but not unfamiliar, moment. I saw with clarity how blessed I am to have survived long enough to meet these wonderful, miraculous girls. And how fortunate I am to still be able to traipse through the mall with them and to have a few extra dollars to spend on them.

With a pang I saw also how limited our time together will be. Before I know it, they'll be grown, off to college, off to marriages, off to children and careers of their own.

I'll be gone. Life disappears so fast. In a year or five or 20, I will have vanished like a vapor.

That's the thing about getting older. You don't learn all the secrets of life, but you do learn this one: Nothing lasts. Not even you.

So I let the girls shop on through another mall wing or two. I limped behind them. The youngest granddaughter dropped back to where I was and took my hand.

When we eventually did make it back to the car, I said, "Girls, have I told you all today how much I love you?"

The next night their dad and I were chatting by text about his lawn mowers, which he was trying unsuccessfully to get running.

I'm not handy at all, and I wasn't any help. I didn't inherit the Mr. Fixit gene, although it's in our family, I told him.

Which coincidentally made me think of my grandfathers, who both were very handy indeed.

I remembered my Papa Prather telling me how he built the frame house he and Granny lived in with his own hands, for $600, in 1940.

I thought of my other grandfather, Papa Chestnut, who, before the RECC (Rural Electric Cooperative Corp.) brought electricity to their farming community, wired his house himself and connected the wiring to a generator he powered with car batteries.

I texted these two memories to my son, thinking they might encourage him. Plus, I suddenly wanted my grandfathers to be in his memory, too, even though he never met them.

Afterward, I lay in bed looking up into the dark.

I remembered the calluses on Papa Prather's palms and how much he liked fresh apples right off the tree and the summer the two of us painted his house.

I remembered sitting on the grass under a big maple tree beside Papa Chestnut as he told me stories about his dad, who'd been a Montana cowboy. I remembered him teaching me to shoot a little .22 rifle before I was old enough to read or write.

On and on the memories went, story after story, picture after picture.

It occurred to me that although my grandfathers are long since gone, they're not gone, either. Nothing lasts -- yet, somehow, it does. It's a paradox. They're dead and they're still alive.

In a little while I'll be dead, too. But not to my grandkids. They'll carry me on. They'll remember my lame jokes and bum-knee walk, perhaps; my grace and love, I hope.

Maybe the girls will even recall last Sunday at the mall. Not the doodads and trinkets, but the togetherness and laughter. Just a moment, say, such as my hand squeezing theirs.

If so, it is enough.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at

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