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James Tissot. JESUS WEPT (JESUS PLEURA). Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. 1886-1896. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.182

By Very Rev.  Kevin George

Lately, I find myself thinking often about my grandmother.

Winnie Whyatt was a quiet soul. She was raised on the very remote Sops Island in Newfoundland; a community long since resettled. She was part of a family of eight who grew up on hard work and little rest.

She was a Pittman – virtually everyone on Sop’s Island was. These folks fished, hunted, and grew their own vegetables in a place where most would not think anything would grow.

She married my Pop Will Whyatt at an early age and moved to another Island, only accessible by boat. Pilley’s Island was, in its early days, a mining community. This is where she would raise four children, including my mother.

Somebody on Sop’s Island must have really shown Nan what love looks like because she certainly paid the love forward. Kat Armas, in her book Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength insists that “Our abuelas (grandmothers) often live lives in which the well-being of those around them is of utmost importance to them.” That was certainly true of our Nan.

She was a woman of profound faith. It would be fair to say that most of her learning was done in church and in church schools.

Her reader was the Bible. She was raised and Anglican and when she married, she joined the Salvation Army. She was a soldier and wore her uniform proudly to the citadel at least twice a Sunday. She was a pillar of that Salvation Army corps. She poured out her love by tending to the work.

She was consumed by the well-being of those around her – those of utmost importance to her. She was tireless in gardening, baking, cooking, mending, sewing, knitting, and tending.

She was quiet. While she didn’t say a lot, her actions spoke volumes. When she did speak – she made each word count. I remember her words now as so very precious.

Not too long before she died, while I was still a teenager, Nan lived with us for a brief time. She had by then suffered a stroke and her mobility was not what it used to be. She still got around with a walker and her pleasant disposition was unaffected by the physical challenges she faced.

One afternoon I found myself despondent. I retreated to the room that was converted to a bedroom for her while she stayed with us. I sat on the edge of the bed, and I sobbed. I cannot remember what had hurt me so much, but I clearly remember what strengthened me to get through it.

Nan came into the room, walker shuffling on the floor ahead of her. She sat down next to me. She did not speak. She gently placed her hand on mine. After a short time, she stood up. She kissed my head and she spoke. Like always she did not waste a word.

“Tears are the enemy of the devil,” she said, “go ahead and cry.” 

Then she pushed her walker forward and made her way out of the room. I have treasured those eleven precious words now for over thirty years. They flood back to me often, especially when I am driven to tears.

So, reader, I am sharing those eleven words with you now. You might find yourself overwhelmed with tears. Perhaps your heart is breaking today. My Nan was right. When we are vulnerable and our feelings pour out in the honesty of tears, God is closer than ever, and Old Scratch tucks tail and retreats in disappointment.

Very Rev. Dr. Kevin George is Rector of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and Dean of Huron.