Monday, July 19, 2010

Celebrating Gran

I’m writing this post in honor of my grandmother, Alice McKenzie who transitioned last week at the ripe old age of 90.  I’m not much for grieving, as strange as that might sound, maybe because I believe that this life is just a stop along the journey of our souls.  Or maybe I just need therapy!  Sometimes a person’s life can be really sad, and we mourn the circumstances that they had to endure.  Sometimes we just miss the person who has passed and we wish to have them still with us.  My Gran lived a long and full life, and instead of grieving her passing, I feel more inclined to celebrate her life and give gratitude for her amazing contribution to the world as I know it.

Many years ago, I heard Carolyn Myss talking about living your purpose.  She said (to paraphrase – as I remember it) that we always imagine our purpose to be something big, but for many of us, our purpose is simply to live our lives as we are, being a shining light for those around us.  My grandmother was such a light.

Gran didn’t have a fancy degree or an impressive resume.  She raised cows and sold milk in Jamaica to support the education of her children.  When the last one graduated from University, she got on a plane - alone - and moved to Brooklyn to start a new life on her own terms. It was a spunky move, she was a spunky lady.  She got a job as a domestic worker with a family in Westchester and worked for them for decades.  When they retired to Florida she got a job delivering lunches to partners in a law practice.  She retired when she was 80.  My Gran’s life was difficult at times.  Yet, she had a strong faith in God and wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself.  She was a woman of action.  As a single woman working a simple job when she first arrived in the US, she often sent us barrels containing goods that were not available in Jamaica at the time, or were too expensive there.  Eventually, she made it possible for all of us (her children and grandchildren) to join her here in the United States to have the opportunities we might not have had in a small island nation. 

There was never a doubt in my grandmother’s mind that we would all “make something of ourselves.”  She was strong in her conviction – tenacious if you will, and her tenacity fueled our family.  She died leaving 5 children, 22 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren (as well as the many in-laws whom she welcomed with open arms).  We have a collection among us of various fancy degrees and impressive resumes, but my grandmother left us the gift of seeing beyond all that to our shared humanity. She celebrated our accomplishments, but I think she was always more concerned that we be happy, responsible, able to care for ourselves, and willing to care for each other and those who needed our help.  My grandmother suffered in her life at the hands of another.  Her response to her suffering has always been a great lesson to me.  First, she took action.  She made a plan and as soon as the time was right, she left the situation.  Then, instead of becoming bitter, she became more compassionate and understanding of the suffering of others.  Instead of hating the one who hurt her, she turned her energy to loving us all and to helping us become the best we could be.

My grandmother taught me that strength is not hard or uncompromising.  She taught me that strength is knowing right from wrong, loving fiercely, and making the hard choices to always follow what you think is right.  Though sometimes firmness is required, she taught me that a woman can be strong and still compassionate, loving and kind.  She taught me that a legacy is more than large gestures and public acclaim.  A true legacy is born of living your life in truth and in love.  This simple and uncomplicated woman, barely 5 ft tall, affected the lives of so many with her tenacity, spunk, kindness, generosity and open heart.  Hers was surely a life well lived.

My you fly on the wings of the angels, Gran.  I love you now, as always.

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