I will never forget the last letter my grandfather ever wrote me. The year was 1986. I was 24 years old, living a dissolute expatriate life in Taipei, Taiwan; a life full of sleazy discos, motorcycles and scores of fresh-faced Taiwanese children to whom I taught English.
In those pre-e-mail days, a letter from the States was a major event, especially from my grandfather, who, as he felt the end approaching, was taking very seriously his responsibility to share whatever wisdom he had accumulated with his wayward grandson. The letters were absurdly learned, stocked with quotations from the likes of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine and filled with meditations on how my personal (mis)behavior had been molded by several thousand years of Western civilization.
But in this letter there was one paragraph that broke out of the lecture hall and into the living room. The Red Sox, my grandfather noted, had a three games to one lead in the World Series over the New York Mets. "I am about to witness," wrote my grandfather, "something that I have waited my entire adult life to see."
My grandfather lived in southern New Hampshire, and had deep roots in New England. He was a devoted Red Sox fan, and in the later years of life suffered from an insomnia whose only saving grace was that it allowed him to listen to the radio broadcasts of late-night West Coast road games. During the summers I spent in New Hampshire as a boy, when I stumbled to breakfast he would regale me with the full details of the games -- details that none of the papers we could get in New Hampshire would have.
Alas, by the time that letter reached me in Taiwan, the Series was already over, and anyone with even the faintest acquaintance with baseball knows what happened, knows the horror that was inflicted upon an entire generation of Red Sox fans. I could only shake my head in rueful dismay, imagining the pain that he had experienced watching those final games. My grandfather, a scientist and doctor who was a great believer in logic, never understood how a pitcher's control could just suddenly desert him in the middle of an inning, or an at bat. I'm sure he found the complete collapse of the Red Sox in 1986 equally mystifying.
I never had the chance to discuss it with him in detail. Just a few short weeks after I received the letter, my grandfather passed away.
I've missed him ever since. Usually the missing takes a particular form. As I wonder at my own children, at their keen minds and sparkling wit, I wish that he could have met them -- he would have been extraordinarily delighted with them, with their observations about the world, and their curiosity as to all things. When they ask questions of me, I often feel my grandfather rise up inside, and am compelled to explain to them how whatever it is that is puzzling them had its roots in the deliberations of philosophers in ancient Greece. They often look at me dumbstruck as I veer off into space and time, but they also, I know, love it -- they relish the attempt to draw the big picture.
The last two weeks, however, my grandfather has again been much in my mind. The mind-boggling victory over the Yankees, a team even Socrates would have loved to hate, followed by the stunning disemboweling of the Cardinals, would have brought a smile to his face, would have sent his eyebrows arching to the sky. I'm sorry he missed it -- but I'm still here, and he's in me, so maybe he didn't really miss it, after all.