Today marks one year since I moved to New Haven. It is just as rainy as it was the day we arrived, and so humid my skin is crawling. Maybe it is the weather, or the anxiety of the end of the year, but I am overwhelmed with melancholy. And despite one last paper to finish before I can officially deem the semester complete, I can’t stop thinking about the day we spent in Falls City, Nebraska when we drove out here last summer.
I’m writing this from inside a library at Yale that was originally designed as a cathedral in 1931 - the entrance of which is pictured below. My grandfather, who grew up in an even smaller town outside of the small town of Falls City, was eight when it was built, when these massive stones were being laid, when sulfuric acid was being poured down the sides of the exterior to make this gothic revivalist building look like an original gothic cathedral, presumably to make it seem more authentic and prestigious alongside the likes of Oxford and Cambridge.
This was during the early years of the Great Depression, and it bothers me, like an itch I can’t scratch, that as this library was being constructed, my grandfather, one of eight children born to poor, tenant farmers, was foraging on the side of the road for greens to boil and raccoons to eat - desperately starving for food during the Dust Bowl.
My dad said to me that this is what parents do, they try to make the world a better place for their children, they try to give them opportunities they never had. I understand that logically, and I feel the love my dad has for me, and remember fondly the love that my grandfather held for me when he was still alive. Maybe I’ll understand it more fully when I have children of my own. But for now, my heart hurts to think of the despair my grandfather went through to to pave this path to Yale for me. And it hurts to think that he didn’t get these opportunities for himself.
It’s not really guilt that I feel, or unworthiness, though I am tempted towards both. Moreso, I think it dishonors his memory, and the memory of my grandmother, to believe that I am somehow not worthy of their sacrifice. I am their grandchild, and of course they wanted the best for me. But I feel a heavy sense of pressure to want to live up to this sacrifice. What can I do to make it “all worth it” - beyond living with gratitude as they raised me to? How can I continue the work they did, how can I pave a path for those after me? How can I make the world a better place for my grandchildren that are, for now, completely outside of my imagination?
I would have liked to have walked with my grandparents through the nave of this library, and shown them the stained glass, and the mural of “Alma Mater” (nourishing mother) with her arms outstretched, in her hands both knowledge and an ability to transcend all earthly boundaries through that knowledge. I have discovered a renewed sense, in recent years, of school has a nourishing mother, like this mural suggests. But I will never forget that, for the first decade of my life, one of the most nourishing environments of learning available to me were the arms of my grandparents, the same ones that worked tirelessly in Nebraska to prepare the way for me, and their steadfast embrace, hands outstretched with a sacred offering - love.