It was closer to one a.m. this past Sunday (well, Monday, really) when I began to wonder what time the inauguration would start. A quick Google gave me the unwelcome news: eleven in the morning. Eastern Time. Seven o’clock here in Alaska. I set my alarm for 6:55.
The next morning, as I stumbled from bed to couch, I wondered, “Why is this so important to me?”
Not quite awake, and freely associating, I thought about my grandfather, my father’s father.
A staunch believer in the tenets of his Plymouth Brethren faith, my grandfather Herbert thought of himself as a citizen of heaven. As such, he did not vote. A conscientious objector during World War II, he served as an ambulance driver instead of heading off to war.
But if you looked at my grandfather more closely, if you saw past his insistence that he was a stranger and an alien in this world, you would find a very patriotic American, one who love all the pomp, pageantry, history and ritual of the country he claimed was not his own.
I remember going with him to see the tall ships in New York during the Bicentennial in 1976.
Over the years, we went to countless Revolutionary War reenactments. I still have a musket-ball pendant strung on a strip of suede from one of those outings.
We attended Christmas concerts at the Ford Mansion in Morristown, one of George Washington’s headquarters during the revolution, where all the performers dressed in period costume.
His covert citizenship was even stronger on the local level; it felt like most of Woodbridge knew Herb Christensen. As one of the owners of Christensen’s Department Store, the anchor store on Main Street, he forged deep connections with customers, and with retailers up and down the street. I grew up listening to stories about how Christensen’s had survived the Great Depression, and how they had helped their customers survive, too.
He was a quietly gregarious man, someone who loved one-on-one conversations. As I watched him interact with customers, with fellow attendees at a basketball game, with the mayor, with the person in the next lawn chair at Independence Day parades, his manner contradicted his separatist theological beliefs. For all his words about the next life being more important than this one, his actions showed him to be a man who loved living in this world.
I think it was his spirit, alive in me, that propelled me out of bed on Monday morning.
In my journey from the Plymouth Brethren to Unitarian Universalism, I have abandoned much that connects me to my past. When I discover treasures that are still with me, when I reclaim my history, I feel grounded, stronger, more whole.
At the same time, I am grateful for the freedom I have found as a UU—freedom that allows me to savor this world unapologetically.
The irony is that, too often, I don’t. Too often I let pain and loss keep me from engaging, from choosing to connect, from loving this world and its people.
But patriotism is not my grandfather’s only gift to me. I also inherited his quiet gregariousness, his love of conversation.
My sociability has been dinged up a bit—by years living as a strong-minded, not-straight woman in a fundamentalist, patriarchal system—but it’s still there.
And it’s what I bring to the work of being a citizen of this world—building relationships, catalyzing ideas, one conversation at a time.