Ten years ago, two influential people in my life passed away. My grandmother, Lorraine, died on June 11, 2011. I continue to write stories about her and the impact she had on my life. I don’t often speak about prominent atheists and how they have also helped to shape my character, but Christopher Hitchens was one of them. He passed away on December 15, 2011 after a battle with esophageal cancer. Both had a lasting impact on my life, including teaching me to always seek knowledge, to always question everything and to always try to be a better person than you are today.
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Today would have been my grandmother’s 99th birthday. She passed away in 2011, but I still struggle with the idea that she is no longer alive and I will never see her again. As an atheist, I do not have the luxury of the idea of being with her again once I die. There is no heaven. There is no hell. Who we are – our mind, consciousness, personality, and character – is a unique combination of chemicals and neurons, which disperse once we have died.
I’ve been working through some trauma issues lately, particularly as it relates to the Christian group I belonged to in college. During my session last Thursday, I mentioned how I allowed the members of this group to convince me Led Zeppelin were satanic. As a result, I sold my all albums and cassettes. The LPs I had were first editions. I secretly kept the 45 my friend, Tom, bought me. He was a good friend and bought it for me as an early birthday gift. Other than it, I had nothing but my memories of Led Zeppelin.
When I was a child, I called her Grammy. All of my cousins did, too. As we grew older, she became Gram. All of our friends called her Gram. She is and will always be the biggest influence on my character.
I stared at the signs Stacy was showing 60 feet away. I shook her off a few times before settling in on my “go-to” pitch. I could place it almost anywhere.
Standing on the pitcher’s mound, the entire world melted away. My teammates knew I liked it quiet, so the normal cheers of encouragement were rarely heard when I was on the mound. I shut out the people screaming in the stands. It was just me, the catcher, and the batter.
I grabbed the softball and turned it around in my glove until my first two fingers were set where I wanted them along the seams. I focused on the placement of the catcher’s mitt, ignoring where the batter would be. My task was to put the ball in the catcher’s mitt. That’s all I looked at. I stretched back and released the ball.
I placed the half-full bucket of black walnuts on the ground and took a deep breath. For Gram, it’s not so hard to carry, but I’m still little and half-full is more than enough for me. I turned around and looked back toward her back yard, full of trees, scanning the surface to see if I had missed any black walnuts.
I wrote this poem as part of my final project in my poetry class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I turned it in on July 12, 1990. I had turned twenty-years-old seven days before. Today would have been Gram’s 96th birthday.