A few weeks ago I was on a plane traveling across the country, sitting next to a sweet, young guy who had just completed a two year mission with the Mormon church. He started talking to me about his work and how excited he was to see his family after being gone for so long. We talked about everything; life, love, art, marriage, and of course, religion. I had never spoken so much to a complete stranger, especially never on an early morning flight, but I was interested. He spent the last two years in the poorest parts of Oakland, Concord, and Antioch. I’m sure it was not easy, actually, probably terrifying at times, but he was still extremely positive about it all.

I was traveling back east to see some college friends, their two month old baby boy, my cousins, and most importantly, my grandfather (Pop) whose health is declining. The night before I left I was feeling incredibly sick myself. I had left work earlier that morning, and laid on the couch the rest of the day, feeling like I couldn’t move, and hoping I didn’t have the flu. I really thought about canceling my trip. On top of all that, I was nervous to travel alone this time. It had been years since I saw Pop and I was nervous of what I might find. Nervous he wouldn’t remember me, or worse, say something unfiltered and hurtful that my sensitive self wouldn’t be able to handle. But ultimately, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t, and so somehow I managed to pack a suitcase.

Stepping off the plane, with the guy whose first name I don’t even know, I felt at ease. It set the tone for the trip, and I was feeling good about all the people I would be spending the next few days with.

Religion, and all religions, seemed to have been surrounding me this trip. I thought about that guy and how it was so interesting to talk with him, although if he would have come to my door, I probably would have just quickly said “I’m happy being Catholic”, and not given him the chance to share his beliefs. The funny thing is how all that changes under different circumstances. I didn’t feel the pressure of him wanting to convert me; he just wanted to talk, and so I listened.

Splitting time between a two month old, and an 86 year old, who both need 24 hour care, you really see the entire circle of life played out in front of you. The baby cried as I held him, and I just wanted to make everything ok. Pop cried, for what may have been the first time ever in front of me, and I felt the same. All I wanted to do was hug him, and make him healthy again. And in moments like that you realize love really is the most important thing to us all.

After spending a couple nights with friends, I walked to the subway station with Shawn before heading off to Albany, and I and wondered how time had passed us by so quickly. It was like nothing had changed, and yet everything had. His old backpack and skateboard from our LMU days had since been replaced by the baby snuggled up against his chest, and the dog leading our way. He’s survived a lot in the decade I’ve known him, and life just keeps moving forward.

On that train ride out of the city, I thought about growing up 3,000 miles away from the rest of the family, and how it would have been very easy to not feel connected, especially in a childhood without texting, facebook, and all other social media. I have to credit my parents for doing an incredible job in making sure that that didn’t happen. We got back east a couple times a years as kids, and although it usually took a day to warm up to our cousins and get comfortable again, we always had so much fun seeing everyone.

My dads parents both passed away over twenty years ago. I never really understood how hard that must have been on my dad, until I’ve recently started thinking more about what it might be like for my mom to lose a parent. We were so young, it’s hard to remember a lot. I do remember their house, and loving going there to see them, but I think most of my memories come from stories I’ve been told again and again. My dad had my mom, and us (his daughters), and my Nan and Pop who have been second parents to him for the past 40 years, but I know that’s not the same as your own parents. I know he must miss them constantly.

The last night of the trip I was back in the city, and went out in the east village with my cousins. We were standing in some bar when Brighid asked “do you think Grandma would be proud of us?” I quickly answered “that we’re hanging out and love each other? Yes!” I knew that wasn’t what she was asking, however the more I think about it, the more I think what I blurted out in that moment is the absolute truth. It’s not just that she would proud that we’re all college educated, that we’ve found a passion in something, and have careers all our own, but rather that her children raised their children similarly to what she would have done herself. That they taught us the importance of family, marriage, and kindness. And yes, that we all love each other, no matter how far away we may be.

I hope we still have several more years with Pop, but I’m happy to have so many wonderful memories with him, and I know that his presence will live on through us all no matter when that time comes.

The morning I flew home I tried hailing a cab by myself at 5am, with no luck, and I started to stress about all sorts of things. Some guy, who was still out from the night before, came over and got one for me within 2 minutes time, which I definitely appreciated, and was a nice way to end the trip. And then on my flight home the plane was filled with what must have been 50+ Hasidic Jews…Somehow I felt comforted once again.