There is No Punchline

by Terry 3 Replies latest jw friends

  • Terry
    (The following is true. It is told the way you might want to tell a joke with a punchline. That's not what this is. There is no joke. There is no punchline. Just read it for what it is. A memory).
    On his 70th birthday, my grandfather announced he was quitting, once and for all time, cigars, alcohol, and swearing.
    He further added that he would thereafter seek whichever religion closest to the true truth; at least as close as humanly possible.
    I was 13 years old and impressed by this determination.
    He poured a shot glass brim-full of whiskey and offered this toast:
    He swallowed it in one swig.
    He lived another 21 years.
    Every night in his bed he read deep books on every major and minor religious idea, thought, philosophy, dogma, or mystic proposition.
    My grandfather invited religious teachers to our house and I was...
    "required" to sit with him as he listened and questioned them.
    At the finish of each book he read he dedicated the book to me and signed it: "READ THIS."
    He gave me, one by one, all of his library.
    Those books were filled with margin notes. Those notes were more than underlined passages.
    Comments, questions, remarks, and counter-arguments scrawled across the edges of each page - a kind of 'argument' to each author - or praise.
    For the last 10 years of my grandfather's life, I was away.
    I moved from Texas to California to seek a more meaningful life; perhaps escaping from Jehovah's Witnesses or awful memories of prison.
    As he was dying (at home, of course) of stomach cancer, I flew back to be with him one last time.
    We spoke candidly with one another. We told each other honest and terrible confessions. Free to be honest in a way only death can permit.
    I finally had to leave.
    We both knew neither of us would see the other again.
    Was there any stone left unturned?
    Yes. There was.
    It suddenly entered my head - for no reason I can imagine - a question (one question) had gone unanswered.
    "Can you tell me what you meant when you drank your last whiskey?"
    "What do you mean?" He was puzzled.
    "You said something about a bird you felt sorry for or something like that."
    He thought for a moment and brightened.
    "Yes. Now I remember."
    He went silent; deep in memory for a moment.
    At long last, he explained as follows.
    "An anthropology student (in Russia) traveled to the Caucasus mountain region to collect folk tales, stories, and legends for his master's thesis. The young man named Shurik, village after village, collected everything methodically; writing it in his journal.
    On his last evening before returning to Moscow, he found himself in a local drinking establishment as, one by one, the elders of the village stood and spoke toasts (for him to collect), afterward smashing their glass in the fireplace.
    Shurik had not ever drunk alcohol before that night but it was made clear to him it was very bad manners and bad luck to listen to a toast and not drink fully to the last drop and smash his glass.
    He relented. Just that one time.
    Drink followed drink.
    The oldest man, the last to toast, stood and said:
    "And so when the flock of birds headed south for the winter, one small but proud bird said, I will fly straight to the sun! She flew higher and higher, but very soon she burned her wings and fell to the very bottom of a deep gorge. So let us drink to this: let not a single one of us ever break away from the family, from our village, from our Mother Russia, no matter how high he flies!"
    Shurik, who is totally wasted by that point, starts to cry.
    He weeps inconsolably.
    “What is it, my friend?" his host asks.
    “I’m so sorry for the bird!” Shurik replies, his eyes full of tears.
    "I'm so sorry for the bird!”
    My grandfather again paused and looked directly into my eyes. He was never a man who looked anybody in the eye. He was terribly shy throughout life.
    I stared back waiting, perhaps, for a punchline to a joke. But tears filled his eyes although he would never allow one to spill.
    I guess my face looked blank and puzzled.
    He finished by saying:
    "It is a Russian tradition to give such a toast. We - each of us - is at one time in our lives, first - the bird and last of all - the one who cries for the loss of innocence."
    I asked, "And the smashed glass?"
    My grandfather nodded.
    "So many men meet to drink and toast before a battle; they know they may never meet again and their life will never be the same if they survive. The smashed glass signifies the fate of us all."
    My grandfather never hugged anybody - so, I didn't try.
    My family did not speak openly of love or affection. It was embarrassing. Why? Beats the hell out of me.
    We said informal good-byes and I left.
    I got word a few days later of his fate.
    All he asked was to be allowed to die in his own bed.
    He hated hospitals. Feared doctors.
    My mother threatened to take him to a hospital if he didn't sign over ownership of the house to her.
    He finally did.
    He'd held that back as his only bargain against a hospital death.
    My Aunt Florence called me (I was back in Redondo Beach, California) and informed me of his passing.
    You see, my mother had gotten what she wanted and thereafter had him taken to the hospital anyway. He died in hospital and not in his own bed.
    I've never given that toast at any wedding or other occasion.
    It just doesn't make sense to anyone else.
    And - like a joke - if you have to explain it - it's not funny.
    But let me tell you this - straight from the heart:
    I'm so sorry for that man - my grandfather. He never found the "true" truth. I was the one who had thought he'd found the Truth.
    One day I'll smash my glass.
    One day, you will too.
    Epilogue: While I was in prison, my mom had sold all my books at the local flea market; even the ones my grandfather had given me.
  • Terry

    Speaking of toasts ...
    "Here’s to it, and from it, and to it again, and if you don’t do it when you get to it, you may never get to it to do it again!"
    and my favorite...
    "May you live as long as you want
    but never want as long as you live."

  • under the radar
    under the radar

    Just wondering... Did you ever forgive your mom for selling all your books? That must have been a hard pill to swallow.

  • Terry

    Did you ever forgive your mom for selling all your books?

    I ask myself over and over what I really feel. Or if I am capable of feeling
    something for my mom.
    I'm merely troubled and confused since I can't understand her psychology.
    SHE LOVED ME - but...
    Her love and her psychosis were blended. She did the best she could and meant me no harm.
    There is a distance between me and FEELING anything and I can't build a bridge.
    So, I accept it. It happened. Let's move on.

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