Papa was a large, towering man. He would trudge through the house with heavy boots and overalls, hymns flowing from the lips concealed by his white bushy beard. Buttermilk flowed thick into the sky-blue translucent plastic cup. He'd finish his verse, sit in an armchair, and take a sip of his drink. Thick liquid melted into the yellowed strands of his mustache as he flipped through the thin pages of his worn Bible. It wasn't Sunday. Just another day. But a new day was a good enough reason for worship.
I learned to play Amazing Grace on the recorder. It was one of the more difficult songs, but it was familiar and I was enthusiastic about learning it. It took some effort, but I picked it up quickly, singing the words in my head as I smashed each of my fingers onto the plastic holes, determined to avoid empty notes. My determination left red rings on the pads on my tiny fingers, but it was a marker of success. I grew sad when they would start to fade. My fifth grade music class had a challenge called "Recorder Karate", and I got my "brown belt" for managing to master the song. I don't recall playing it for Papa.
I seldom went to church, but I learned most of the songs they'd sing on Sunday mornings from my grandfather's voice bouncing through the narrow hallway in the early afternoon. The times I did go, I'd perk up when they asked us to turn to page 43. I couldn't read the notes, at least not anymore, but I knew the tune well. The pews vibrated with the low hum of a hundred voices singing along, and it was one of the few times I didn't stumble through the lyrics. Papa never went with me- he'd written off Edgewood Church of Christ many years before. His relationship with his creator was his own to determine. I would soon follow suit.
In the last weeks of Papa's life, I stayed up with him reflecting on the decades prior. He was slipping into an illness induced delirium, but present enough to finally allow his vulnerability. He began to sing, and my mother stepped in the room to join us. We sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, but it was a moment filled with Grace all the same.
As I tucked a small ceramic angel into the breast pocket of the suit he was to be buried in, Papa's Greatest Hits accompanied a slideshow playing on a TV mounted in the corner of the room. My aunt and uncles mused over the familiarity of the songs, and his surviving siblings commented on the significance of each tune. I sat quietly nearby, reckoning with my private conclusions.
When I am lost and blinded by my pain, I find myself returning to the same memories. They are warm and rife with perspective, even though they've become less perfect as I grow older. As I type this, I am sitting at the table where Papa would teach me riddles, humming the melody since the words have since become so murky. I am not religious and despite my upbringing, I never really have been. Still, I cannot deny the swelling of my heart when certain notes begin to play. Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come. It was Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace that leads me home.