Last week, I went to my best friend’s grandfather’s celebration of life. Papa died in the comfort of his home with his loving wife by his side, likely knowing he left behind family, friends and members of the community who love and miss him dearly.

It wasn’t until I read Howie’s obituary that I got to know him more. I knew surface-level things: he was a Vietnam War veteran, a member of the Masonic Lodge and American Legion in Jeffersonville, Vt., loved singing and a dedicated Buddhist.

That last aspect of him was what bewildered me the most when I first met him.

Allow me to rewind the clock a bit, to the time when I was a college freshman at Johnson State College.

It was Johnson State at the time. No need to confuse others until the Vermont education system figures itself out.

My newfound best friend, Ashley, brought me to meet her family on a weekend, to get away from campus life for a day.

When visiting her grandparent’s house in Jeffersonville, which the town almost looks like a mini-Tenants Harbor without saltwater, I was introduced to him and his quirky personality.

Howie, or Papa, as I got used to calling him as Ashley did, followed the practice of Nichiren Daishonin Buddism, and also attended the Second Congregational UCC down the road.

This aspect of him threw me for a loop. At 19, I couldn’t understand how someone can be both Christian and a Buddhist. That was a thing?

Present day Emma knows better. Of course it is, and anyone can believe in multiple things at once. Ignorance isn’t always bliss.

Until then, I only saw a variety of Christian churches in Connecticut; I had tunnel vision wrapped in hymns. People from other faiths, let alone with different spiritual practices, were rare for me to meet, especially in Simsbury. It wasn’t until my confirmation when we visited a temple and mosque that I felt like the world was insanely better than I thought it was.

There’s variety. Different colors or flavors of faith, and I was obsessed to learn more about them. I was met with things I didn’t know about and I had a dying need to learn more about them.

Ashley’s family is spiritually diverse and, until then, I never experienced such a thing, it was almost a culture shock. Even more, they all got along and never fought or argued over it.

My family can’t even stop feuding over a 20 year old grudge, so seeing a family living harmoniously in a spiritual/religious aspect, it was not only bewildering but relieving.

In a matter of months, I visited more with Ashley and her daughter, and the initial surprise at seeing Papa pray at his Buddhist altar became normal. In fact, his chants were soothing to listen to, the rhythmic and repetitive chants was calming from a day of midterms, stress, tests or even just from the day alone.

In that moment of peace in the family room, Ashley’s daughter, who was five at the time, sat next to him, put her hands together like he had his, and though she didn’t join in verbal prayer, she was enraptured with the incense floating from the altar, her great-grandfather’s voice, and the beads hanging from his calloused hands.

My niece is growing up in a spiritually diverse world, one where she’s accepted no matter where she goes to pray or to whom she prays to. Her mother is a general spiritualist, her grandmother is a Lutheran, her great-grandmother is a Protestant, her great-grandfather was a Christian Buddhist, and many other family members of hers are either deist, agnostic, pagan and/or Catholic.

To see this diversity is incredibly beautiful, and I must thank Papa for delivering that aspect of life in his existence. I had to seek out that spiritual diversity on my own by the time I was in middle school, and most of those new friends and acquaintances were online.

For my niece, on the other hand, this is a typical Tuesday, and she’s not even 10.

Since then, I’ve become good friends with people who identify as not only Protestant or Catholic, but also Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, athiest, Druidic, Hellenistic, deist, agnostic, Jediist (yes, that’s a thing), Wicca and Norse heathenistic. There’s beauty in all these faiths and beliefs, I can’t imagine not being surrounded by them now.

During this celebration of life, I couldn’t help but look around at all the family members, friends, townies and the little descendants fidgeting in the pews. All different faces, lives, perspectives, yet that difference came together to create a beautiful ceremony for Howard Callihan.

So with reflection and honor, I spent the remainder of the ceremony feeling not only empathetic towards my best friend, her family and heartbroken with loss, but also at peace, seeing Papa’s youngest great-grandson, just barely two years old, taking apples out of the little barrels in front of the podium, and handing them to everyone he could reach, arm outstretched in sweet generosity.

Papa would’ve liked seeing that.

Emma Testerman was a writer and copy editor for the The Courier Gazette and VillageSoup. She currently resides somewhere in the back woods, often mistaken for a cryptid.