A Lesson from My Grandfather

Over Thanksgiving, one of my uncles told me a story about my grandfather.

My grandfather was a scientist by training, and a fairly reserved man by nature. But he was also a warm and deeply caring one, and, after the war, embarked on a second career as a Presbyterian minister.

As my uncle pointed out, this meant caring for everyone — especially people he might not know very well, and most especially people in the extremis of human experience.

Grandfather might not have been social or easily knowable, but (said my uncle) he knew he had a job to do, and so he did what any scientist would: he read the manual. And from whatever rulebook for ministers he read, he discerned that his job in times of crisis was simply to go to people, to sit with them, and to ask three questions: How are you doing? Would you like to pray? Is there anything I can do to help?

He did this for decades, until at his retirement from the ministry his flock showered their shepherd with thanks and praise for being the kindest, most personable, most available minister they had ever known.

Listening to this, my uncle said, he wondered who was this man that people were describing. He certainly didn’t sound like Dad.

But he absolutely sounded like my grandfather the minister. And that was the trick: by accompanying people and asking them three questions for years upon decades, my grandfather was the minister people needed him to be when they needed a minister.

Some of it was a learned performance. Sure it was. But he cared enough to learn it, and to perform it over and over and over again. And it worked. It made him not only a pastor but a professional, and, on the anniversary of his death, we fondly remember him still.