I’ve first moved to my present house thirty-five years ago. The first person I met was named Angel, a man from Mexico and the patriarch of four generations who lived with him. He died less than a month ago at the age of 103.

Angel’s grandson, M devoted years to giving care. He cooked for his grandfather, took him to sit in the sunshine, and drove him to medical appointments. M was a toddler when I first moved in. I saw him yesterday: his hair has gotten grayer in the last few weeks.

In addition to a sympathy card to the entire family, I wrote one to M. too. I told him how much I respected what he had done. I know how hard it is to give constant care to another, to be both weary of the work and yet more determined to keep a loved one alive. M. simply said: “He was there when I drew my first breath, and I was there when he took his last.” M’s mother told me later than when Angel died, M let out a long agonizing wail.

M’s comment was literally true. The day M was born, his father walked out on his mother to be with another woman. Angel took M, his sister, and his mother into his home without a word of reproach. M. regarded his grandfather as the only father he had ever known.

This is what family is all about. It cannot change the natural limitations of lifespans. It’s not meant to. It’s about taking care of one another. It’s about coping with the difficulties of life. It’s about affirming love and care at every moment. That is the ordinary—and extraordinary—act of being human.

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