Making Room: May It Be So

I started out today expecting to write the usual laundry list of ambitions, both petty and profound, and compose my thoughtful, well-intentioned game plan of  self-improvement, neatly ordered into checklists that can be efficiently scotched or unscotched as the days go by.

Instead, I found myself thinking about my grandmother. She died in July. It wasn’t COVID or anything dramatic. Time got her. She was 94 and lived independently in an apartment of her own until the final, frail weeks. My parents took her in, setting up the hospice bed in my old bedroom. My mom and dad and aunt and uncle and cousins took care of her. We visited most every day. My brothers came in to say their goodbyes. So did my cousins’ kids, my grandmother’s great-grandkids. During the 15ish months of relative isolation during the peak uncertainty of the pandemic, I saw my grandmother infrequently for fear of carrying the virus into her home.

And so it was tremendous relief when our families were able to gather together and help each other help my grandmother through her final weeks, days and hours of life. She died peacefully surrounded by people who loved her, the people she loved.

And I am thinking of her today instead of making my resolutions. I am thinking of the way she was able to love people so well. She was filled up with love, so much that it spilled out constantly. Her love was a bountiful abundance. She could not keep it to herself. She could not keep it inside.

None of us ever needed to wonder how she felt. She told us. She took interest and asked questions. She was curious about our lives and our doings. She was proud when we did something worthwhile and liked to celebrate every small success.

I am thinking of her today because her way of loving is my inheritance. It is the way I want to live my life. To spill over with curiosity and kindness for the people in my life. To give generously without reservation, nothing held back, nothing set aside. She was all in, always.

It doesn’t matter what goals I set myself for the coming year. I will set them and I will see them through. But the meditation is not for what I will do but for how I will do it. With kindness. With generosity. Ever curious. Ready to celebrate. Opening, always opening. Making room for everyone and everything.

This is my new year’s day meditation.

May it be so.

A Few Things About My Grandmother

My grandmother celebrates 87 years today. She lives alone, drives her car and is learning to check Facebook on her Android tablet. The walls of her house are filled from floor to ceiling with framed family photographs. Her shelves are stacked with pictures, four frames deep. She is lovely, generous and kind. Many of the things I know that are worth knowing I have learned from my grandmother.

I never knew my grandfather. My mother’s father died one month before I was born. My grandmother has filled the years that followed by loving her family enough for both of them.

My grandmother finished her formal education at 8th grade. There was nothing beyond that available to her. She enjoyed school so much she took 8th grade twice.

My grandmother is a news and politics junky. Back in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton days she was a keen follower of public policy, celebrating the success of both parties. When politics turns nasty, she loses her taste for it and cultivates an expertise in the national weather.

When her sight was better, my grandmother was a voracious reader, preferring political and celebrity biography. She has never developed an appreciation for fiction.

When I was 10 years old, I often spent the night with my grandmother. She had cable. That’s how I found out about MTV.

When spending the night, we often had dinner together at Krystal. She never had much money and she enjoyed buying those dozen tiny, little hamburgers. It was always a low-cost feast.

When I was a kid, she was always giving me the last dollar out of her wallet. I took those dollars, never realizing she was giving her last one.

She used to carry Certs with her everywhere. She offered me one every time there was a lull in conversation or we were waiting for something to happen.

My grandmother is the kind of person with whom it is easy to share good news. She was one of the first people my wife and I told when we got engaged and again when expecting our daughter.

She doesn’t have much and has never asked for much. She surrounds herself with the love of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She gives more generously than her means and never speaks unkindly of anyone. She forgives quickly and celebrates every little success. She always expects the best of everyone and is seldom disappointed.

She worries too much and hates to be a burden on anyone. She lives simply and maintains a stubborn sense of self-reliance.

I am grateful to her in ways I cannot find words to describe. And so I will leave this to say, my grandmother is a phenomenally kind, generous, loving person. She has suffered loss and then seen years of increase. She holds the world together with worry and attention. I hope you are reading this and thinking of someone in your life like this. If you are, you understand what it means to be loved and appreciated beyond all limits and reason. You understand the spirit of generosity.



The Internet Revolution is Now Complete. My Grandma Has WiFi.

The Internet Revolution is now complete. My 88 year old grandmother has wi-fi.

I visited her this afternoon for our traditional New Year’s family lunch. I was surprised to find a router sitting beside her recliner, lights ablaze and signaling traffic. This shock was preceded a few weeks earlier by a Facebook friend request from my grandmother. What is going on?

Turns out my uncle activated a DSL connection, installed the router and established the Facebook account. He also bought a used Toshiba tablet so my grandma can Facebook. This is a bit of a head bender. My grandmother is an intelligent woman but I’m not sure if she knows that she internet access. I have never once seen her use a computer of any kind. She distrusts debit cards, does not carry a cell phone and uses only two TV channels — CNN and The Weather Channel. I’m not even certain she knows what the internet is.

But, that doesn’t matter. She now has wireless internet access, whether she realizes it or not, and it will make her life noticeably better in at least two practical ways. My grandmother is losing her hearing. She can still enjoy conversations in rooms without background noise but phone calls are a chore. For two years, she has been using a telephone-to-text relay service that is mediated by a third party listener who listens to the conversation and transcribes on the screen for my grandmother to read. It works okay but accuracy is about 60% and there is some lag. Like I said, phone calls are a chore. The DSL connnection was installed to connect her telephone to an internet-based transcription service which works faster with more accuracy. I am told the transcription is now 80% accurate and much faster. That alone is worth the price of the internet subscription.

Photographs are a big part of my grandmother’s life. She started taking snapshots as a kid and has carried the hobby ever since. Her pictures reveal what is most important in her life – family. I am sure she was tens of thousands of candid family photos, many of which are pressed in albums or are hanging on her living room walls. When she leaves her apartment, they will have to re-sheet rock the entire living room because there are so many nail holes from family pictures. It is a sight to behold.

The wireless connection and tablet allow my uncle to show my grandmother recent pictures from family in west Tennessee, Texas and Kansas through Facebook. Even if she never likes a post or publishes a status update, wireless internet access allows my grandmother to extend the reach of photo collection into virtual space. This is a good way to keep her from feeling quite so far away from the people she loves.

I write a lot about how the Internet shapes my daily life. When thinking about technology, I often succumb to the rhetoric of revolution. Today, it occurred to me that the revolution may be over. The Internet now truly underpins every aspect our quotidian lives. The Internet has become a utility like water and electricity, so ubiquitous in our daily lives we don’t even have to know it is there for it to bring value. The revolution is complete. Everything is different and the tools have disappeared. We can finally take this stuff for granted and expect it to work for us every time without special skill or training. Incredible to realize how boring and commonplace the magic has become. We live in fascinating times, even when we find them completely ordinary.