Sitting Shiva

I’ve never seen this grill before.

I’m sitting on the worn striped seat cushion of an old metal chair.  Along with its three blue wire-frame counterparts and matching table, this chair has kept watch over my grandparents’ patio for years.  In front of me sits a new shiny new grill with a dozen settings and easy-turning knobs and the kind of clean appearance that comes from not being used nearly enough.

My family made the trek from Fort Myers to Austin to join our relatives in commemorating my grandfather’s passing from time into eternity.  He is with Jesus today, and we are with each other, preparing fresh homemade fajitas for our first all-family meal without him.

My uncle was out here tending the grill by himself, so rather than sit on the couch and watch the cousins tumble on each other, I decided to come out and keep him company in the Texas heat of a spring afternoon.

We don’t say much.

I can smell the southwest-seasoned chicken as it simmers on the bottom rack of the metal machine.  The patio door creaks and swings open as a cousin bursts out with a plate of freshly prepared buttered garlic bread—Texas toast as we call it.  Each slice is carefully placed on the top rack where it will warm and brown, getting just toasty enough to crisp but not enough to crunch.

I look around at the hand-crafted stone of the house wall in front of me and the pebble-and-concrete floor of the deck beneath.  I turn in my seat to gaze at the long wooden fence and the scrub grass yard that looks a lot smaller than it used to.  My grandfather built this place, and from the shed in the corner of the back yard to the pecan trees in the opposite corner of the front, it will always bear his memory.

We still haven’t said much.

I remember my grandfather’s laugh, loud and hearty, and how his head would go back and his eyes would sparkle when he was amused.  I remember his arms, strong burly arms that had hoisted elevators in the old days, built two houses with the help of his family and lovingly toiled for years on various woodworking projects in the garage.  I remember how he loved his old green truck with no air conditioning, how he enjoyed recordings of the mariachi music of his youth, and how he cherished my grandmother until the day he died.  They made it 62 years together.

My uncle and I still haven’t spoken beyond a little bit of catching up, and suddenly I realize something.

That’s just fine with me.

There is a tradition in Jewish life called “sitting shiva.”  It’s a multi-faceted mourning ritual with many beautiful parts to it, but the one that stands out the most to me is the silence.  In the tradition of the visiting friends of the Biblical Job, those who would comfort the grieving will come to the family home and just sit together.  While talking is not prohibited per se, it’s understood that this is not the time to offer hollow sentiments or even well-meaning condolences.  It’s not the time to try and make sense of the why’s or try and remember the good ole’ days.

This is a time for silence.

It makes me wonder if maybe what we all need in times of grief really isn’t a trite phrase or even a tender word, but just to have someone sit with us in silence so we know we’re not alone.  It makes me think that if my grandfather were here, he’d probably be just fine with the silence, too.

It’s still quiet, with only an occasional insect chirp to disturb the soft sizzling of the new grill.  As my uncle and I sit in silence, I smile, thinking of my grandfather as fajita-scented smoke collects briefly in his rafters before wafting out into the bright blue Texas sky.

-Pastor Phillip

In loving memory of my grandfather, Papa Marcelo Gonzalez

Papa Marcelo and Grandmama