We sat knee to knee, leaning in toward one another; eyes focused on none but the other. It’s the only way to hold a meaningful conversation with my centurion grandmother, and she will tolerate nothing less. She does not wish to waste her time on idle prattle. She wants to ponder the big things, like God and what it means to be a spiritual being in a material world. Speaking with her on this level is exhausting yet inspiring. I have to speak loudly and slowly so she can hear and understand. I am forced to economize my words – and not to shroud my thoughts in pleasantries designed to tickle the ears to avoid offending. My conversations with her are probably among the most authentic moments of my life.
She reflects often on having lived for 100 years. I asked her what was really important in life from her perspective. “Why worry about things?” was her answer. Isn’t that the chant from the dawn of humanity? If only we could lick worry, then fear and hatred and selfishness and greed would disappear. Imagine the good we could do with all the energy misspent on worry. Take worry out of the equation and we may have time to find creative solutions for the stuff we worry about like war, famine, renewable energy sources, or loneliness, heartache, and poverty.
Sunday afternoons at grandma’s house were lessons in grace, manners, and the art of conversation. As if by magic there was always freshly baked cake – even when company was not expected. The best coffee I’ve ever sipped was brewed right on her stove-top. We sat in her elegant living room discussing current events, politics, our careers, and the latest news of our family. She led us by example, never gossiping or speaking ill of anyone. If we want to know what’s happening with other family members, we must ask them; she won’t tell. We’d kiss good-bye stuffed to capacity after having been force-fed seconds and sometimes thirds of cake and cookies, but we’d also be transformed into better citizens of this world from time spent in her presence.
These days she is living in a care facility, and has decided it is time to divide her sentimental treasures amongst her many grandchildren. It turns out she has been studying us. Watching and quietly taking mental note of our unique interests and passions. When the box marked with our name arrived, we were dumbfounded by the pinpoint accuracy with which she determined who should receive the various treasures she had slated to disperse. She is clearly dialed in to the nuances of our respective characters. Each item revealed new insight about her understanding of our individual personalities. That is love. She has been an avid student of each grandchild from the day we were born. She knows us well; and as I listen to her, I’m realizing that she may perhaps know us better than we know ourselves. I asked her how she did it. She says she was inspired as she points an ancient finger to the heavens. She told me I have that same gift. “Not like you do,” I said. She told me not to worry, it will increase the older I get as other matters I deem pressing right now start to fade in to the background and I am able to better discern what is really real. That is something to look forward to!
I am so grateful to have this fine lady in my life at a season in my own human journey during which I can hear and appreciate her simple wisdom. It can be easy to dismiss the words of our ancient ones as having little relevance to our modern world. We can so easily mistake a repeated story for a memory lapse when perhaps it is being repeated because we didn’t grasp every nugget of truth from it the first few times we heard it. We can disregard a repeated question as just something to be tolerated when perhaps we should be more thoughtful and careful with our answers. As I sat with her one early spring afternoon this year, I heard my internal dialogue telling me to listen and pay close attention to what was saying. She has a priceless perspective to offer and this is my once in a lifetime chance to absorb it.
This beautiful soul is trapped inside an aging body that now requires special care. She can no longer enjoy her favorite sweet treats and libations at liberty and can instantly tell if we water down her port, or substitute a healthier version of a favorite dessert. The only time her graciousness fails her is when she is denied one of these simple pleasures. I watched her pout like a child when her caring daughter removed her goblet of cream sherry the last time we were together. “I am one hundred years old!” she defiantly declared, “I will drink what I like!!!” Those are good words to live by.
I know I may not have the pleasure of grandma’s company for much longer, and it seems impossible to dream of living in a world where she is not. I feel a great sense of urgency to glean every morsel of wisdom and absorb every proton of her splendid energy while time allows. The colorful threads of her gentle soul woven through the fabric of the universe are creating a masterpiece reaching far beyond our generation. To love as she has, to pour out my life as an offering of grace to the ones I hold dear, is a lasting legacy deserving wild pursuit.