I returned to my college dorm room one spring afternoon and found a note posted on my door by one of my roommates. "Call home immediately. Your grandfather died."
As I read the words, I felt that a corner of my universe had just been torn off, and an irreplaceable love was leaking out of it forever.
Grandfathers are special, and mine was no exception. He was a tall, shy man who smiled broadly every time he saw me - I was his only granddaughter. Both my parents worked full time while I was growing up, so it was Grandfather who made me breakfast in the morning and put me on the school bus. And he was home for me when I got off in the afternoon.
Grandfather taught me how to wait patiently on the back stoop with a peanut in my hand and coax the neighborhood squirrels to come up and take it. He allowed me to sit on his rider mower and even drive it - his hand just guiding the bottom of the steering wheel so we wouldn't inadvertently take out the forsythia bushes. In quiet moments, we would split a packet of sugar wafers and savor them with a bowl of ice cream. When I was with him, I just felt special.
As I tumbled through adolescence - a gawky, freckled tomboy with braces - I looked to Grandfather for that smile that assured me I was the wittiest, most beautiful woman in the world. Behind those warm brown eyes of his lay a reservoir of unconditional love larger than anything I could imagine.
Unconditional love is a love so powerful nothing can alter its activity or purpose. It is so much more than can be contained in the confines of one human life. Yet, it seemed so connected to this one person that I couldn't imagine a world where that special love for me would exist without him.
Easter came on the heels of my grandfather's passing. That year, I felt a special connection to the story recorded in the Bible. I think I understood the depth of the grief the disciples must have felt when the one who had taught them what it was to love and be loved was placed in a grave. I realized how cold and unfeeling the world must have seemed to them, how bereft of all that gave life meaning.
But it was this same story that lifted me out of the huge emptiness I felt.
The Gospel of John recounts how one of Jesus' followers - Mary Magdalene - had gone back to the tomb of her Master. When she discovers his body is missing, she is overcome with despair and not even able to recognize the risen Jesus standing by her. He calls her by name. Mary turns to him. In that thrilling moment of seeing Jesus alive, perhaps she threw her arms around him. Gently, he pushes her back. "Do not hold on to me," he says, "because I have not yet ascended" (John 20:17, New Revised Standard Version).
A lot of scholars have wrangled over this exchange, but to me it seems that Jesus was asking Mary not to hold on to his personality as the source of the love she so valued. He was constantly turning his students back to God as our inclusive Parent, as the One who treasures each of us individually and is always with us.
Speaking of Jesus, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote: "He was inspired by God, by Truth and Love, in all that he said and did.... Out of the amplitude of his pure affection, he defined Love" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pages 51, 54).
This Love is divine Love, another name for God. It is eternal, all-powerful, and inexhaustible. It's what animates the lives of those who touch our hearts. But it does not depart when those we love may leave us.
I believe that the unconditional love Mary Magdalene felt in the presence of Jesus had the same source as the unconditional love that sparkled in my grandfather's eyes. It was God's love and God as Love.
I began to realize that love did not disappear from the earth when Jesus continued his spiritual journey and ascended beyond the abilities of his students to see him in the flesh. They found an irrepressible joy that impelled them to share the good news of their Master's words and works. And they felt God - divine Love - present and with them every step of the way.
I was able to sing with gratitude all the rousing hymns that Easter Sunday as the weight of grief slipped off my shoulders. Resurrection was about Life and Love triumphant. My grandfather and I would always be connected by God's love and nothing could ever really separate us. Though I could no longer see him or hold his hand, I realized our love had not diminished but had gotten bigger. We were both discovering that eternal Love was as expansive and inclusive as the universe itself.
I think about Grandfather often, though it has been almost 20 years since that spring. Something will trigger a memory that brings a wide smile to my face. It could be a grandparent cooing over a grandchild in the park, or a toddler hugging his father in the supermarket checkout, or someone greeting an old friend at the airport. It could be just hearing the Easter story. And I'll think, Yes, I know that Love. And it's something I'll always know ... because it can never die.