Recently, I was contemplating how my grandparents influenced me, and decided to honour each of them during their birth month, starting with my paternal Grandma, whose birthday is at the end of July. In many ways my Grandma Ada led an ordinary life for a woman of her generation. She raised her two youngest siblings after her own mother passed away, had 7 children with my grandpa and when they went to school, she volunteered at the hospital cuddling babies. She never learned to drive, never held a job after she became a mother, and was fastidious about keeping their family home clean and tidy.
In other ways, she was a woman before her time. She loved alternative therapies, even before they were popular in the counterculture. I remember her taking apple cider vinegar and talking about the benefits, but she didn’t seem to mind that nobody paid much attention. She composted and used grey water from her kitchen to water the plants outside, which seemed eccentric at the time, but is now just good stewardship.
Well into adulthood, I naively believed that all elders were wise; this was because my grandparents truly were. She knew her own mind and adhered to her convictions fiercely; I once heard someone tell her she was stubborn. She retorted, “I’m not stubborn, I just know when I’m right.” She certainly did, and had no problem standing up for herself. She knew how to raise up those around her to be their best selves, and she did exactly that. She couldn’t stop my grandfather’s temper, but she learned that she could inspire him to be more loving in a given moment, which she did with a tenacity that women on the cutting edge are just learning to do today.
She may have been opinionated, but she wasn’t arrogant. She didn’t impose her understanding on others, just lived according to what she believed. I rarely heard her preach, gossip or badmouth anyone (except politicians). She had 5 sons and loved all their wives as her own family. I had no idea what female politics could be like until much later in life because I never saw it in my own family.
She was a deeply spiritual person, but not an evangelist in any sense of the word. One of my uncles asked her as a child what happens when we die. She explained the various beliefs people hold about it and told him that when he got older, he would decide for himself what he believed. Her example was that everybody had to follow their path and be themselves; if that meant being different, that was ok.
The attitude of making one’s own choices was also embraced by my parents, and it has affected me profoundly as an artist. I’ve met colleagues who haven’t had the support of their families and had to make the choice to pursue their passions with enormous conviction; and others whose potential has been thwarted because they didn’t have the courage to go against their family traditions and expectations. My family enjoyed and celebrated my music, but neither suggested that I pursue it professionally, nor tried to dissuade me from it. Having felt pressured to conform by those around me in other situations, I can see that I probably wouldn’t be the musician I am today without the quiet, but unconditional support of my family.
These are some of the values I hold dear and try to live by, which I learned from my grandmother’s example:
- Hold the highest calibre possible for all the relationships you’re in
- Meditate and study
- Be a lifelong learner
- Take responsibility for your own health
- Decide what you believe in and have the courage to live it without talking about it much. What other people think about it isn’t important.
- Let others chart their own course
- LOVE and celebrate those you love
- If you’re not already a wise elder, seek to become one
My grandmother’s willingness to be herself, in both large and small ways, has served as an example that I could find the courage to do the same, regardless of whether my choices were conventional or not. Her life is still an inspiration to me, even though she passed nearly 2 decades ago. It’s so beautiful to feel her presence and support, even in the smallest of my choices and actions today.
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