Never-changing Life Lessons
I find Valentine’s Day to be a pretty useless holiday, but every year when February 14 rolls around I still find myself smiling and lost in thought. Not because of the (pretty useless) holiday – but because February 14 was my great grandmother’s birthday, and she was one of my all-time favorite people. A good, hard-working farm wife and mother of three, she was always ready with open arms and homemade cookies and donuts. (Her homemade donuts were THE BEST.)
She also taught me (and my siblings and cousins) many things about life that have become truer as the years speed by. With that context, here are some lessons I learned from her:
Drink a glass of water and check back in 30 minutes.
Whenever any of us complained of a sore throat, headache, or stuffy nose, her reply was always, “Drink a glass of water. Then come back in 30 minutes and tell me how you feel.” How many times do you think we went back to her after 30 minutes? Close to zero. Not only did she give us something to address our complaint, but she also gave us something to do. My focus would change from thinking about my headache to… hmm… what are the boys doing? (And lumbering off to find them…and get in trouble with them…you get the picture.) I still “drink a glass of water” today to reset myself when I’m restless, stressed out, or have a headache. Somehow that action, with purpose behind it, pushes me past wherever I’m stuck.
Take time to watch the clouds go by.
Sometimes, on warm summer afternoons, she would corral us into the backyard and we’d lay on the ground and be required to watch the clouds go by. She had only two rules: one, our backs had to stay on the ground and two, no yelling. We’d comment on shapes the clouds made (Look! An elephant’s head!) and try to make up the most bizarre story about how clouds formed (a factory tried to burn a bad batch of marshmallows, and clouds are the marshmallow’s ghosts) and just BE with each other. And laugh – A LOT. We each took our turn, there was no acknowledgement of eye-rolling or negative body language, and we were open to each other’s perspective. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure she did this just to have some “down time” – with up to six great-grandchildren running around at any given time, her eyes were often closed while laying in the sun with all of us chit-chatting around her, but she didn’t sleep (as we discovered from her occasional laugh). We learned a lot about each other in those afternoons, and we also learned how to function in a group.
Be honest and kind. (A.k.a. if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.)
The one thing we would get admonished for most often is talking down to each other or about someone when they were not around – even if it was truly in jest. She stressed kindness and neighborliness like nobody I’ve ever known. In their small town and big farming community, neighbors helped neighbors whether the task was big or small. We never understood as kids why it took four adult women to snap one big bowl of beans because we didn’t understand the effort of community. (And, you have to sit still to snap beans, and that wasn’t going to happen with us.) It didn’t require four women to snap those beans, but snapping beans was a good thing to do while catching up with the neighbors.
Our youth shapes us, to a degree, into the people we become. People come into your life and impact you in unexpected ways. The lessons Grandma T. taught us (without teaching us, mind you) extend to lessons of leadership and workplace respect. Each of us can (get a glass of water and) work through a challenge; each of us could learn and respect the perspective of other’s while taking the time (to watch clouds go by and) to listen attentively and not argumentatively; each of us has the power to be kind (or not say anything at all) to each other and focus on the positive instead of the negative.
So, happy birthday, Grandma T., and thanks for giving me the glasses of water, teaching me to be still and watch the clouds go by, and showing me that a lot of times kindness can do more than money ever could.