A Grandmother’s Lessons on Being

Yesterday, I was having a drink with a friend and some of her friends. A couple of the women were talking about their grandkids and how hard they try to be of service to them, which is wonderful, but sometimes hard.


I blurted out, “I don’t know. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She never cooked special foods for me or made me clothes or took me anywhere. Heck, we rarely left her home. I only remember one time she ever bought me something for no reason. She was a very quiet person, and English was her second language, so she rarely gave me advice or chatted with me about the things I enjoyed. She never came to any of my school events or activities. Yet I adored her.”


This revelation was followed by a moment of silence, as I think we all processed what I’d said. I’ve wondered for a long time why, given the circumstances, my grandmother was so important to me. Why she still is, though she’s been gone for almost 30 years. I admired her for the challenges she’d overcome in her youth and her tenacity as an immigrant to America. Though she never said, “I love you,” I knew she did. My fondest memories of her are of quiet moments. Sitting together on the porch swing with her hand in mine. Slow, observant walks around the block just to notice what had changed since yesterday. Watching her pat out tortillas for our lunch or helping her sort the good pinto beans from the bad (which is actually a pretty meditative experience).


I realize now my grandmother was a master of “living in the now.” And some part of me, growing up with stress and challenges of my own, must have craved that. I used to think Grandma didn’t teach me anything specific. She was a great seamstress, but never taught me to sew. She refused to teach me Spanish, though I asked her often. She never taught me how to cook, even. She left that to my mother. But now I realize she taught me something much more valuable. She taught me how to be still, how to notice, how to just be in the presence of someone you love.


So maybe it’s not what we do for others, it’s how we “be” with others. Maybe what shows our love the most is just being present. Funny, how it can take a lifetime to recognize the lessons that really matter.

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