Last week, your pop-pop and I were reminiscing about your great-grandfather, whom you lovingly nicknamed “Papa Tomato” shortly before his death this past summer. “That man just never stopped moving. He always had his hands in something. He just couldn’t sit still,” your pop-pop said to me with a nostalgic quiver, “It’s almost as if…well, it’s almost as if he was afraid that if he stopped moving….that if he stopped moving for just a moment, his whole world would stop. He was afraid that if he stopped for just a moment, he would die.”
These words have been resonating through my very core since the moment they were spoken. I never saw myself having much in common with your Papa Tomato. His heart was so big that the slightest whisper of another’s misfortune would spark a stream of tears. His generosity was boundless and his personality was, quite literally, larger than life. He found profound pleasures in the most simple forms: baking a loaf of bread would create a sh*t-storm of endorphins that would permeate his being so overwhelmingly that they just couldn’t be contained; they would inevitably spread to everyone around him. Your mama has run hundreds of miles in search of that same state of mind, but she has yet to find it. And though she constantly tries to break free of her reclusive nature, she could see by just looking at your Papa Tomato for a quick moment that some things just come naturally. But I realized last week that your Papa Tomato and I do share something. There is something that lived in him that now lives within me.
You see, Evangeline, your pop-pop was right. Your mother, like your Papa Tomato, is afraid of death. But it isn’t quite as simple as that. Your Papa Tomato and your mother both know what it is like to have life taken from us before our time was really up. We didn’t like it, because we knew that we had so much more work to do here. We didn’t like it, because it wasn’t fair. We didn’t like it, because we had so much to share, so much love to give and so much more to see.
Both Papa Tomato and your mother have done something with those life-sucking experiences that not everyone does, Eva. It’s something that streams so seamlessly through our blood. It’s something that didn’t take much thought, didn’t take much effort. It was just instinctual, if you will. This experience is what brought your Papa Tomato and me together. It’s how we came to see eye to eye. How we bonded. It is why, in his last days on earth, when I looked him in the eye and unwillingly accepted that he couldn’t fight the good fight any longer, I cried harder than I have ever cried. It is why he looked right back at me, and in a fleeting moment of lucidity, he cried right back. You see, Eva, Papa Tomato and I? There was this one experience that brought us together in his last years, but especially in his last moments: we both looked death right in the face, and we both ran like hell in the other direction.
Whether this is something I learned from him, or something inherited, Papa Tomato gave me this unquenchable thirst for life. It’s why my dreams are bigger than my reality. It’s why I fight for things that I know may never happen and it’s why I risk the unimportant for the seemingly unattainable. Because if there is one thing that your Papa Tomato and I know as well as anyone out there, it’s that we have a helluva lot to squeeze into this one preciously unpredictable, and finite, life.