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Grandad's Koans

Mel and I were midway through one of the largest transitions in our adult lives, an exhausting and tumultuous and trying time, and at the pinnacle of it all, when it was already way too much, when we'd long since had enough, my Grandad passed away.

England 2013, the last time I was with my Grandad. Photo © Lee Nutter.

On top of the obvious upset, the expensive and unpleasant process of wrapping up our affairs in Australia meant that we weren't in a position to fly around the world, and I was the only one of my Grandad's grandchildren that wasn't at his funeral. This being so, my Dad asked if I'd like the write a eulogy.

I started planning immediately and dove into my notoriously bad memory looking for the stories and details that made my Grandad the man we knew and loved. Despite my memory I found plenty, but there were a couple of stories that stood out.

These stories were previously just humorous tidbits, recounted whenever my Grandad came up in conversation, but now that he was gone they became koans, life lessons he'd left behind.

The first was an occasion when my Grandad had purchased a new book to read. He had spent an hour or so sitting down with it when he sat bolt upright and cried, "I’ve read this!" Everyone present laughed and commented on his terrible memory, but he wasn’t to be made fun of. He turned back to his book with his nose up, "It doesn’t matter," he explained, "I don’t read to remember, I read for enjoyment."

This story, previously just a vague memory mixed up with a host of others from the same holiday, became something so much more. Grandad wasn't just defending his terrible memory, he was living by example, reminding us that life isn't just about remembering the past, but living in the present.

I know I know, Eckhart Tolle eat your heart out, how profound to think about life when you're faced with death, but bear with me for just one more short story, or koan if you will.

In the second story my Grandad was at work when he opened his lunchbox and sighed. A workmate asked what was wrong. "I've got cheese sandwiches again!" gasped Grandad. His colleague suggested he ask his wife to make him something else. "That’s the thing," cried Grandad, "I make my own lunch!"

Grandad delighted in telling this story, each time as if it was the first. This koan is much more straightforward. You've made your bed, now lie in it. We all know the cliché, but still find a way to blame others for our circumstances.

To my mind this koan reinforces the first, Grandad was reminding us that we are not above cause and effect. For the most part, if we're not doing all we had hoped with our lives, we've only got ourselves to blame. We've got to make our own lunch, and live with it when we do.

My Grandad's passing was not the reason we moved to Cambodia, but now more than ever I'm aware of his influence in my being able to do so. I know that Grandad was a little confused about why we chose Cambodia as our new home, but I also know that he wanted what was best for us, even if he didn't completely understand it himself.

Grandad passed at a turbulent time in our lives, but in some ways it was a gift that I was forced to reflect on his life in the way that I have. I've been reminded of why we've done what we did, and why we're doing what we're doing. We're making our own lunch.


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