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Lions Roar : March 2014
gaggle of teenagers got out, jumping on the stones, laughing and taking pictures of each other with their phones. Next, I visited the grave of the man I used to walk with on the beach in La Jolla. A week before leaving for Germany, I’d learned that this man was really my father’s biological father, my biologi- cal grandfather. My father had lived with him for years, believing that this man was a family friend. This man never told him the truth and never acted like a father to him. He died without ever calling him “son.” I knew none of my other grandparents and would have liked to have known I had a grandfather, especially this man I used to walk with along the beach. I was sad, but I didn’t get angry until I saw his grave. He was buried in an old cemetery in the heart of West Ber- lin. The site was chosen long after his death, after his cremated ashes had been ignored in the storeroom of an East Coast funeral home for years. Even though he had been forced to leave Ger- many, he often went back after the war ended and still felt at home there. The graveyard was chosen in part because he had friends buried nearby. It took me two buses, a walk, and some mangled German conversations with strangers for me to find the cemetery. It was late afternoon when I arrived, and in the fading light, I missed the posted map and couldn’t find his grave. As I walked along the gray tombstones and dark shadows from the chestnut trees, I started to feel a creeping panic. What if I couldn’t find it? What if I had to leave without ever seeing him again? If I couldn’t find his grave, I’d be left in the woods. Alone. Lost. I was getting ready to leave when some pale light on the flat top of one of the cement stones caught my eye. Up against a wall in the far corner of the cemetery, I saw the black scrawl of his name. Anger, my familiar furious blaming anger filled me. We had so few relatives. How could this man have lived with my father and said nothing? How could he have left us there all alone? I wanted to yell at someone, to shake the tombstone until an answer fell out. But I would have been yelling at an empty grave. My grandfa- ther was not in there. Even the remains of his body, cremated and long buried, had been absorbed back into the earth. There was no one to yell at. There was no one there to blame, just an empty boat. If my grandfather was anywhere at all, he was in me. We have the same nose, the same genetic material, the same tendency toward logical argument, and the same love of the ocean. I also inherited, from him as well as others, the same seeds of anxiety and fear. Letting go of blame doesn’t mean I’m letting my grand- father “get away” with something. I’m responsible now for what secrets I continue to keep, what blame I pass on. Someone had left fresh chestnuts on the top of the grave and, amid them, a dying red rose and some polished stones. I picked up one of the smooth brown nuts. Even in the last of the light, it was gleaming, full to bursting with the seed within. I rolled it between my fingers, then returned it to the top of the stone. Evening had fully arrived and the sky was dark, the air cold. I left the cemetery empty-handed and walked lightly, but not alone. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 16