Lessons from My Grandmother
My family members are traveling from around the country this week to gather for a celebration of my grandmother’s 100th birthday. We’re all excited about the event, and though I’m biased, I think my grandmother is a special woman worthy of a massive celebration.
Standing at less than 5 feet tall, it is easy to underestimate my grandmother. However, despite her age, she has bundles of energy, can beat most of my relatives at mahjong, and is adept enough with her iPad to send out emails and stream Chinese television programs. I admire many things about my grandmother, including her remarkable ability to take life’s hurdles in her stride.
Her adaptability and poise in the face of change is something I aspire to incorporate into my own life. While she doesn’t have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) as some of my other family members and I do, I think I can learn from her mindfulness and wisdom.
I recall the many occasions when CMT raised its ugly head. As a child, I remember my discouragement as I struggled in physical education class due to my clumsiness. In college, during my gym course, I resigned myself to falling on my face at least once per class. During times like these, I’ve found it difficult to stay positive and look at my potential for improvement. Instead, I focused on my shortcomings.
But when I look at my grandmother and see how quick she is to laugh and smile, I see the chasm between my life experience and hers. And I wish I could capture her optimism and feistiness.
For much of her life, my grandmother lived in mainland China, mainly in the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai. She has memories of hearing explosions during World War II from her bedroom. Later in life, she moved her family with three kids to Taiwan; the journey involved a boat trip in a typhoon. In 1985, after raising her five children, she and her husband moved to the U.S.
My grandmother has lost some of her mobility with age. She walks with a rollator and requires some assistance with moving and bathing. Still, she laughs as much as my niece and nephew do. We’ve asked her what her secret is and she simply credits it to her easygoing nature and ability to laugh at herself.
There’s a story in our family about when one of my aunts got lost while walking home. Neighbors helped my aunt to find her way back by identifying my grandmother’s place as the one that belongs to “the family that likes to laugh.” Such was my grandmother’s reputation.
I’m learning to find the humor in life despite its struggles. It’s an everyday exercise. But when I am tempted to fall into frustration, whether it’s due to tripping over my feet or fumbling with my fingers, I think of my grandmother and the importance of laughter.
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