Like pretty much anybody lucky enough to still have a living grandparent, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma lately. She’s 86. I keep deleting that, and writing instead that she will turn 87 next month, and then deleting that too because, well, I don’t know if she will. I want to add another year to her age, to reach for the quadruple rings of 88, for the power of infinity times two. I want the balance of eight, amplified into an angel number. I want more time.
I would be embarrassed to talk about numerology with my grandma. She is a practical person. She is also a staunch atheist. When I was a kid, I was certain my grandma was the smartest person in the world on account of the fact that she could finish a crossword puzzle, spot eight letter words in Boggle, and was never without a book. As my grandma told it, she didn’t get a date all through high school because she was too tall for all the boys and, in her opinion, too smart. At her first office job, she got in trouble for correcting the boss’s grammar. She graduated from Penn State in the fifties She worked as an English teacher before she had my uncle and my dad.
If my grandma turns 88–wait, no, 87–it will be the day before I turn 35, and we will talk on the phone, about the family, the books we are reading, and the news. We will almost certainly talk about Trump. Grandma is the only other reliable Democrat in my family, and I am the only other reliable Democrat in her life, a bond forged circa 2003 over a mutual delight in collecting and mocking Bushisms. Back then, Grandma used to get in arguments with my mom–her daughter-in-law, also a mother of sons–about the draft. The problem with America, my grandma said, was that we had lost all sense of duty and sacrifice. She was no flag-brandishing war hawk, though, and I never heard her peddle the myth of the good war. She just knew that the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would not end unless we all had something to lose.
I don’t have much patience for the way things were, but this view of my grandma’s has weighed on me my entire adult life. I opposed those wars from the outset, too, but never did anything more than march. Nobody ever asked me to.
This new war is different. These last few weeks, each of my four siblings and I have retreated into our homes, along with virtually everyone we know. We’ve pulled ourselves and our kids out of every activity. We’re homeschooling on the fly. We’re not seeing our parents or neighbors or friends. We are standing in long lines for food and medicine. We are wearing masks. We aren’t doing this for ourselves. We are healthy. We are doing this for our country. We’re doing it because America asked us to.
My grandma is healthy, too, but she’s lived a long life and says she doesn’t care if COVID-19 takes her out. I care. I want to see her again. I want my daughter to see her again, to know her long enough to remember her. If we don’t see her again, I want my grandma to see us, to see my generation showing up and sitting down for this lesson in sacrifice. I want her to be proud of us.