If I love someone and they die, do I have to say I loved them? Can I no longer say I love them?
My grandfather died today. I loved my grandfather.
Jack married my grandmother more than 10 years ago, when I was still in middle school. Big Nanny, as we have always called my grandma, hadn't been married since divorcing my grandfather when my mom was in college. These decades of her life, making it quite fine on her own, required Jack to do quite some convincing. But he succeeded. They were married in Chicago, Jack's home for more than 60 years.
In our family we call grandfathers "Papa" and grandmothers "Nanny." Papa Leslie was my mom's dad, Papa Ward my dad's dad, Big Nanny my mom's mom, Little Nanny my mom's dad's mom and so on. John Sohl became Papa Jack.
I always enjoyed our conversations and was fascinated by the life Papa Jack had led. At 24, my age now, he was about to fight in Africa during the second world war. A decade later he was pioneering a new business and a couple decades after that he was transitioning the multi-million dollar company to someone else to run. He was a kind man, a calm man and a generous man. So much so that I will have a hard time living up to his standard. In his nineties, when I was able to stay with him and Big Nanny over the summer to study for the medical school entrance exam, he still spent his free time take daily walks, giving advice to young businessmen and businesswomen free of charge, donating his time, money, contacts and energy to service above self groups like the Rotary Club, and sharing his wisdom with young kids like me. That was the summer I really started to love Jack.
We talked about everything that summer, often the things we cared most about - things that would seem to separate us. He liked Fox News, I liked the Daily Show. He wasn't too keen on the United Nations, I wanted to be Secretary General. He wasn't sold on the value of the Peace Corps, I wanted to join with every ounce of my body. He liked deli meats, I liked...well, we agreed on that.
I never tired of talking to Jack because he never tired of talking to me. No matter the issue, no matter our opinions, we respected each other, we honored each other and we shared with each other our thoughts and our lives. I never once forgot that I spoke with a man more than four times my age. I never once forgot about the wisdom behind his words - the life experiences that supported his positions and lifted him up to see the world the way he did. I never once forgot that this man, with his tremendously valuable time, was sitting down and talking with me. He shared his laughter, his smiles and his warm handshakes with me as often as I let him. I did fine on the entrance exam that summer, but if I didn't study as hard as I could have it's because I was doing something much more valuable.
It has been said that "Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to appear, speak and act, as the most common man." I have to think this is why Jack's desks were always covered in letters, his walls always displaying plaques from dozens of organizations and the cars outside were always filled with friends ready to take him to the next club meeting - he gave himself completely to each of them. He gave his time and his heart to those who gave their time and hearts to him. He was a most common man and one of the greatest men I have ever met. Like all great men that continue to inspire me, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, King, I will not use the past tense with him. I love Papa Jack.