My grandfather, who we call Bobpa, turned 95 this week. He is a brilliant, compassionate man whose fiercely inquiring mind and quiet unwavering kindness have always made him a giant in my mind: a tree rooted deep, straight as an iron rod, always pushing itself further and further into the sky.
When I was sixteen, Bobpa came to Florida to give me my patriarchal blessing. You only get one of these for your entire life; at sixteen, I was a tangled, sleep-deprived jumble of passion and ambition, driven and lost; I thought I couldn’t possibly ever need guidance in my life more than I needed it right then.
Before he gave me the blessing, Bobpa asked me if there was anything in particular I’d like guidance on.
“Just--what to do with the next ten years,” I said.
“Interesting. Why just the next ten?” he replied.
“Well, those are the important ones. After that I’ll just get married.”
He laughed. “Life doesn’t end after you get married, you know.”
“I know that, it’s just--after that, you know, your life is more set. Like, all your major decisions have already been made, and you’re just, like, having kids.”
There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell 16-year-old me, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have listened. What Bobpa said was something like this:
“I’m sure God will give you guidance on this next phase of your life, but remember that there may be many possible ways that you could proceed, and God will usually leave that choice up to you. Each phase of life has its challenges, but each phase of life also has potential for growth and progress. Never let yourself be ‘set.’”
He gave me my blessing, and, like his advice, I didn’t understand most of it until much later. God did not, in fact, give 16-year-old me a clear answer as to whether I should go to college or become a famous ballet dancer (perhaps He knew that the latter option was never very likely). However, over the next ten years (“the important ones”), I did a lot of things: I went to college, I went on a mission, I angsted about jobs for a while, moved to Boston without a job, and then picked teaching; I joined Teach for America and moved to New York. I’m naturally indecisive; at each decision point, I would plead for God to tell me which path was right, and then, generally receiving an intangible sense of benevolence but no clear sign, I’d shut my eyes, cross my fingers, and jump in, hoping that I’d picked correctly. There were crisis points: when I went through years of doubt in college, I remembered Bobpa telling me that that doubt was a natural part of faith; when Grammie died, I learned the true importance of the Resurrection; when I went through the temple for the first time and cried afterwards in incomprehension, Bobpa was there as well. “You don’t always have to understand everything right away,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take the long view. Sometimes, it takes time.”
When I was 25, I fell in love; when I got married at 27, it was the first life decision I made that I was ever absolutely certain about. And afterwards, as Bobpa predicted, my life indeed did not end. It just got much, much bigger. It’s sort of like discovering, upon finishing level one, that your reward is that you get to play level two, and then comes the slow dawning realization that there are actually a lot more levels than you previously thought.
Often, advice to young people takes the theme of “life is short”; there’s tremendous pressure to do everything now, now, now. What I’ve learned from Bobpa is that life is long; infinitely long, in fact, and you are in a very small part of it. You don’t understand everything right now. You have to take the long view. You won’t always have a clear answer to everything; keep going anyway, and you’ll be fine. There is always something more to learn. Never stop asking questions. Never let yourself be “set.”
Life’s too short for that.