Sunday, May 18, 2014

Abba's gift of contentment and silence

At the wake for my father, Ignacio Manuel Ruiz Diaz, my four amazing children stood up and shared a reflection they wrote together describing their relationship with, and experience of, their grandfather.

The reflection was read at the wake by my oldest son, Christopher, and reprinted as an edited version (with some pretty fun photos!) on my daughter Anamaría’s new blog “Accidental Discoveries.”  Check it out here.

I am reprinting their reflection with confidence that you’ll find it as beautiful and profound as I have:

My name is Chris. I am Ignacio’s grandson, and I am going to say a few words on behalf of Ignacio’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. We all got together to discuss what I am about to say, so please know that everything I am saying now is spoken on behalf of all of us.

We called Ignacio Abba, which I think came about because I – his first grandchild – couldn’t say Abuelo. Abba was quiet, not because he was shy or nervous, but because he really valued silence. On one of his recent wedding anniversaries, both he and our grandmother, Nana, were asked to give their advice. His advice: silence. El silencio. This silence was evidently something he practiced in his life, and lived with contentment.

The result was that when you were with him, you learned to value that silence too. Even as a child, when you were with Abba, you could see that stillness allowed him to be present to the moment, to God, to the people he was with. And it made you still, too.

And so much of what we remember about Abba is small moments. He and Nana took one of us to Puerto Rico for a month or so every summer for several years, while Nana taught summer classes there. While she was teaching, we got to spend time alone with Abba. Much of this time was spent watching Abba serve; he’d buy us a comic book or book and a coke and then take us to the laundromat, and we would sit, read, and wait for our clothes to dry. He never said anything about his serving; it was just understood, between us and him, that it was something he did that he joyed to share in with us.

It was also in these small moments when his humor came out. His eyes always sparkled when he heard a joke, or saw the humor and joy in some part of life. As a child, when we visited Puerto Rico, he taught us to pop the petals of a Caribbean flower. He would enjoy the loud “pop” sound as much as we would.

He also loved to pick mangos as we walked, and showed us how to pick the ones ready to eat that day. He loved to walk and to teach us about the island through everything we saw: the lizards, the flowers, the coquis calling at night, the empanadas sold at the beach. Because he valued silence, he noticed and cherished all these things. And as a result, we did too.

He did not lose this as he got older. His great grandkids – the oldest of whom is 3 – loved being silent with Abba as much as we did.

with youngest great-granddaughter, Sofia
He was also the best whistler any of us have ever heard. I think it started out as a way to avoid singing – which he wasn’t great at. But we loved it. When he whistled a song, it was better than some of the best singers singing.

And Abba was brave. He and Nana once had the fiercest beast anyone has ever known: a cocker spaniel. And we were terrified of that dog. But he always saved us from it, even when it meant carrying multiple grandchildren from the threshold of the door to the safety of the monkey bars (which the dog wasn’t very good at).

I’m going to close by talking about Abba’s eyes, because most of what we cherish about Abba can be glimpsed through his eyes. His green, Castilian eyes. 

His eyes often contained silence, the stillness that he held within his soul. The contentment with the gift of his life and his family. 

I can think of no better way to finish by quoting something my brother-in-law, Travis wrote about Abba’s eyes after he had met Abba twice, wrote: “Still, hushed, and sidereal, like an oculus in the dome of a cathedral at night, they bear no attribute of color or depth.” 

His eyes radiated the love he had for his family, often overflowing with happiness at our mere presence- and especially the birth of every one of his great grandchildren. With the announcement of a pregnancy last May, his eyes grew wet, brimming over to his cheeks, as they did with the birth of a great-granddaughter. But it doesn’t seem accurate to say that he cried: water, like happiness, just appeared in abundance.
Abba, thank you for teaching us to love silence and, in doing so, to love the world. We love you.

playing with the first great-granddaughter, Elena
with his namesake and great-grandson, Ignacio

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