One thing I deeply regret I missed out on, and I only really learned I missed out on after talking to my Southern and Protestant friends at Harvard, was the full grandma experience. I don’t mean that I never had a grandma. I had two, just the number that everybody is entitled to. I mean I want someone to feed me pie and sweet lies- like “everything you do is wonderful” and “the reason no boy asked you to homecoming is that you’re too darn pretty.” This was never something I had. You see, I had cold Irish grandmas, which is a very particular sort of grandma and the perfect sort of grandma to remember on Saint Patrick’s Day. When I say “cold,” I don’t mean that my grandmas were cruel, or that they didn’t love me. I’m certain they did; they helped raise me after all. But I’m also certain that they would rather die than ever say so. Sure, I sat in their laps sometimes, they told me stories, and gave me some of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. But I also know as a matter of fact that one of them was just as likely to flip you off at Sunday dinner as give you a kiss. That’s just the way cold Irish grandmas are.
Over these last few weeks I’ve realized that this experience may have had more value than I thought. There’s been a lot of talk, unrest even, about the place of Christians at Harvard. It’s been helpful for many of us to have an opportunity to listen to those inside and outside our community who we don’t usually get to hear from. To be sure, it hasn’t been easy, but I believe it has been helpful for us to understand our brothers and sisters all the better. One theme I kept hearing variations on from many people- but by no means all of the people (I have no desire to paint with an overly broad brush)- dissatisfied with the events was that the Christianity that once made them feel “safe” or “welcome” was soured. This is certainly not an ideal turn of events, and I’m sorry that it happened. But I can’t help but feel that, like me, these people were looking for something of a grandma experience; but they looked in a very wrong place. They wanted a Christianity full of pie and sweet lies- and instead they got flipped off.
Hey, at least my grandma taught me to expect it.
It is my belief that Christ was really something like my cold Irish grandmas. Certainly He loved us; He died for us after all. But He wasn’t born to make it easy for us. He didn’t tell the Pharisees that the divorce laws were whatever made it convenient to take a wife. He didn’t tell the disciples to dismiss the children in order to act in a way that seemed dignified to them. He didn’t tell the rich young man to obey only those laws he could follow comfortably. In everything He did He defied the narrow and comfortable expectations His people had for a lawgiver, for a king, and for a savior. Indeed, He warned us that we would struggle, that not all of us would be able to accept His word. But for those who follow Him, foundering in uncertainty, He gave hope:
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
I think, perhaps, this is the real reason Saint Patrick’s Day always falls in Lent. To remind me before the Resurrection, the really expectation and reality shattering feat of Christ; that God, like my cold Irish grandma, is nothing but loving while also being anything but safe or welcoming. But it is my prayer, this season and every season, that we might be all of these things to one another, without exception.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a History & Literature and Religion joint concentrator in Lowell House.