My grandpa died when I was seven years old, and yet he left a lasting memory in my heart that lives to this day. See, my grandpa loved the sky. He loved the clouds, thunderstorms, wind, and snow, but his favorite love was the stars. He had over 70 grandkids, many of them born after he died, but each of us knew about his love of the universe and the stars whether all of us had met him or not.
Grandpa had left a legacy which each of us that had been lucky enough to know him, have passed along to the cousins that didn’t get the chance to know him.
Every summer night, Grandpa would hang outside, long after dark, pondering the wonders of the universe. He was not the philosopher type, he didn’t get into all the science issues, but he watched and learned from nature. He knew the constellations, but more importantly he knew his faith. And faith, he said, was like the universe, so vast, so beautiful, that it was not possible in one lifetime know everything you could know about it. But that didn’t bother him.
Me and several of my cousins were with him one night, stargazing when he declared he could not wait to get to heaven and see what the stars looked like from the other side, as he called it. That took me back a little because I knew that in order to get to Heaven, you did have to die first. My First Communion date was coming up soon and so I knew my Catechism. You didn’t get to Heaven without leaving this life first. So why would you be in a hurry to get there? I mean, Heaven was great I was sure, but there was so much to do here too!
“Don’t you see,” Grandpa smiled, “in Heaven, you would just understand it all. You wouldn’t have to wonder about how everything came to be, how the meteorites fly through the sky, how the sun stays in place, because in Heaven you would just know and you could see it all.”
In his own way he was explaining faith to us too. We cannot expect to understand everything about our faith. We can’t explain everything. But like the stars, we just have to believe in it, believe they will be there night after night for us to admire and enjoy. If we question too much, we lose seeing the beauty of it. If we don’t look at them at all or just give them a passing glance and say, “yeah, that’s nice, I guess” we don’t see the immense majesticness of God’s creation.
Grandpa died the week before my First Communion. My grandma came to spend time with us and was there for my special day. I missed Grandpa and wondered if he was there in Heaven looking at “his stars” from the other side.
As my cousins and I grew older, we talked about things like Heaven, faith and the universe, about our questions, how it could all be.
One summer night in August, we were all gathered outside playing tag in the yard when we saw something fly through the sky. Scared, we ran inside and told our parents. One of my uncles who was an avid night sky observer like his father had been, said, “It’s the meteors. It’s time for the meteor showers.”
Sure enough, it was mid August, the time for the Perseids showers that come every year, right on time.
We went outside again and watched. But meteors can be funny things. Clouds obscure them, you blink and miss them. We got tired waiting and I exasperatedly said, “Okay, Grandpa, show us a falling star!”
Zoom....to our amazement, a huge fireball went by. Dumbfounded, we all looked at each other. Grandpa was indeed seeing the stars from the “other side” and had even helped us see a little better!
As I grew older, I struggled through ups and downs in life, trying to live my faith, see the beauty and yet question things, try to understand why things happen the way they do.
Faith is hard, faith is easy. Faith is like trying to explain the stars and how they got there, how they stay there and why. The stars beckon us with their twinkles, their beauty and fascinate us with their mystery, yet they are always there night after night reassuring us. My faith reassures me that God is always there, even when I’m scared and lonely. Even when it seems like I can’t do anything right, or nothing is going right in my life. God loves me I know, but sometimes it’s hard to love myself.
At different times throughout my life, I would look up at the night sky and talk to my Grandpa. I knew he was there, looking down at me through those beautiful stars. And I could hear his voice reassuring me that, yes indeed Heaven was just as great as he thought, and I would someday love it too. That I would make it though the ups and downs in my life. Just as sure as the stars were in the sky.
I would remember the song he always sang when we were getting ready to leave their house, “Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar and be better off than you are...”
I knew my faith would help me be better off, but I knew too, like the vastness of universe, there was a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing and some things I just wouldn’t understand until I got to Heaven.
And just like faith, when you suddenly get an answer in your heart, when something you’ve been praying about finally works out, or you finally “get it” and understand something about God, Grandpa would suddenly answer me too. A shooting star would suddenly appear in the night sky.
“Thank you Grandpa.“
And now, with kids of my own, I pass along Grandpa’s legacy so his great-grandchildren know of his faith, his faith which he has passed along to all his grandchildren, the legacy in the stars of believing. No matter what happens in life, what gets you down, sad, and confused, you hold onto your faith and don’t let go. Even when you don’t understand it, don’t feel like you know everything about it or can’t explain it to anyone. Faith is like the universe of stars. Wonderful and huge. Hard to grasp. But sometimes, you get an inspiration, like a shooting star in the night sky, you suddenly understand. Your heart is peaceful once more.
But it takes watching and being patient. It takes believing, and it takes awe and wonder. Faith isn’t something concrete or predictable. Faith takes, well, faith! You can’t give it to someone else, but you can, like my Grandpa, help someone find it.
Every August, my family and I go outside, watching and waiting. Sometimes we see the shooting stars in the Perseids showers, some years the clouds cover everything. But that’s okay. Because though they are covered up right now, I know they are still there. I know, Grandpa is up there watching out for me and all my cousins and our kids and our children’s kids.
Like my grandpa, I pass along the faith by being patient and awe struck by it. It’s the wonder and curiosity that helps us seek out our faith and grow in it. It’s like swinging on that star.
Thank you Grandpa, I love you!