If I were to save just one thing from my life with my grandmother it would be a simple memory. A moment in time made up of a snow bank in a farm field and two young feet wrapped in plastic grocery bags, stuffed into oversized gumboots. A familiar memory for those of you born before the winters started getting warmer, when the snow still piled above the dried chaffs of wheat, creating wind-blown waves undulating across the fields like mountains and valleys begging to be explored.
For some, a grandmother is a source of inspiration or a loving caretaker, but my Grandma, she was an adventurer. Forecasted weather or looming scarcity, nothing could distract her from the task at hand, no blizzard, no ominous thundercloud, no impending hailstorm was too big for her imagination and her explorer’ spirit.
Her companionship and pride prevailed through every challenge, her bright eyes, and her ever prevalent pursuit of the next round of laughter.
On that cold winter day, my mittened hand was firmly locked in hers, with my brother in tow on her other side. Supporting us through the fluctuating snow banks, her arms would rise on either side as my brother and I climbed and descended, testing the frozen strength of the snow banks beneath our gumboots.
And though the snow so rarely failed to hold us, we knew that if Grandma’s hands had ours, there was no hardened pile of ice and snow that could ever swallow us; nothing scary or bad could really ever happen. But if its crusty barrier of ice did ever break, sending us tunnelling inside its frozen belly, she would always fish us out, or laugh with us as we jumped to free ourselves.
Each clinging snowflake on our sweaters, each nipping cold breeze on our cheeks, all just medals of honor to show Grandpa when we finally made it home to the farmhouse, sipping bigger mugs of hot chocolate for our efforts and of course an extra cookie.
Looking back on their lives, we see the courage in our ancestor’s grandest struggles and adventures. Boarding boats to leave their homes for rocky soil and alpine forests, surviving war, genocide, oppression, residential school to build farms, factories, and families. Survivors. But my grandma lived her life like so few of us do. She thrived, taking each day with a smile, each encounter with man, animal, or towering staircase, as an opportunity to generate more love, to learn something new, or to count… just because. Their impact in our lives like every step under our feet, we climb… 91, 92, 93…
To any of us finding the world an even scarier place this year, a place that seems more empty and potentially more turbulent, I urge you to use our ancestor’s lives as sources of possibility.
We only get so many staircases, so many moments, and I regret that I have spent so many of mine as a survivor, feeling lost or confused, judged and misunderstood – quiet to the opportunities that surrounded me to stand up and be heard.
My grandmother never taught me to be scared. She was light, and laughter… a pen pal, a side kick. My Peter Pan. She was the leader of epic adventures, my understanding, my kindness. She made for us all a home when hate, and sickness, and pain became the struggle of just being alive in this world.
Living or dead, our ancestors have given us each a piece of a very special set of 46 chromosomes and an unconscious choice in how we use them. Whether it’s the pain that comes from being misunderstood or seeing a breaking world and sickly sky, we are given a choice on how we live our lives. In the hardest of times may we be able to look back into our lineage for even just a glimmer of these lessons in our lives, so that we may find ourselves whole again. Here are the five lessons my grandmother taught me:
1. Be loving to everyone you meet, and never judge.
2. Be happy even when it doesn’t feel possible… fake it and just smile for a moment, just play a game, sing a song, or use your imagination.
3. Be open to all things in this world, especially the most frightening and strange.
4. Believe in something bigger than yourself because otherwise the world is just too small.
5. Put your hands in the earth and grow beautiful things.
6. When you finally decide to go, when you finally leave this life, make sure to leave the world a better place than how you found it, even if that means sacrificing something for yourself.
7. But most importantly, find adventure, find laughter, and an extra cookie… in every single step of the journey.