A Letter to His Grandchildren from Sandy Sherizen

To Cassandra, Alexandra and any future grandchildren of Patrick Townsend

I wanted to give you some personal comments about your grandfather. He and I differed in very fundamental ways. He was Catholic and I am Jewish, he was conservative and I am progressive, he was a military officer in Viet Nam and I was a conscientious objector against the war. And yet we were very close friends, respected each other, accepted our differences and loved what we shared.

You may wonder how we could put up with each other so nicely. The answer is that we shared very similar values around the importance of family and the need to act in ethical ways to create a better world. Our conversations were friendly and honest even though we decided to avoid discussing politics. I learned from him that we could agree on so much and that the differences that we had were important but should not serve as an impediment to being friends, colleagues and even mentors to each other. We shared family stories about our children and worried about them and the world. We had these talks without rancor or attempts to score political points and even ventured every once in a while to try to examine some complex issue facing our nation.

All of this means that your grandfather was very unusual, especially in these days where people refuse to talk with others who hold different views. He had strongly held values and fought for what he thought were the right things to uphold. He was so generous with giving his time and energy to others.

I sometimes lead memorial services for members of my congregation who have lost a loved one. There is a phrase that I often read which reminds me now of your grandfather:

    The measure of our lives is then the quality of soul attained between birth and death. We come from dust and will return to it. We achieve eternity in the impact that we have had on those who live on—in the remembrance of family and friends.

I as well as many others will miss him so much. I will try to remember the following words from the poet David Harkins when I think of my dear friend Pat:

    You can shed tears that he is gone,
    or you can smile because he has lived.
    You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back,
    or you can open your eyes and see all he’s left.
    Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him,
    or you can be full of the love you shared.
    You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
    or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
    You can remember him only that he is gone,
    or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
    You can cry and close your mind,
    be empty and turn your back.
    Or you can do what he’d want:
    smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Sanford “Sandy” Sherizen, Natick, MA

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