In times such as these when challenges seem both overwhelming and forbidding, it’s good to take our thinking wider, to remember that proverbial long road. And although the “right now” makes every day feel like a long Tuesday, this won’t last forever. Fridays, Saturdays and even summers will return. But while we’re in this, it’s helpful to remember those that came before us, especially our grandparents.
Grandparents have been through times such as these before. My father fought on both fronts of World War II and then the Korean War following that. My mother would tell me stories of not being allowed to swim in pools, lakes or the sea because of polio. And my grandmothers survived the devastating flu of the 1900s. I remember these stories, and they were always wrapped in the lasting takeaways of strength and perseverance, and, yes, that long road. And that is just my story, my experience. In our narratives, all varied and personal, those who tell us the stories of what came before can offer balm and perspective.
We all know that grandparents have a special hold in our lives. They live in the land of humility and wisdom: both coming from experience longer than ours. Grandparents can name for us what really matters, and rarely do those messages live in what is right in front of us at this particular moment. That long road. I remember my grandmother helping me with the times table, especially the 7s, which gave me a particular challenge. She told me down the road I would love working with numbers and their beauty: the times table was just a tool, not the bigger picture. When my heart was first broken, she told me that she read somewhere that we could fall in love with a multitude of people. I don’t even know if there was such an article ever, but, I believed her and this gently took me beyond the moment.
While grandparents are encouraging us to see beyond the immediate, they are also telling us always to enjoy the goodness we have right now, in front of us, and recognize it. Go with what poet Wallace Stevens says when enjoying something both wonderful and simple: peaches. “With my whole body I taste these peaches.” Everything is fascinating to grandparents, and how many times do we hear them say, “there’s something new to learn every day.” Indeed, and even in a pandemic: “Not for school but for life we learn.”
But best, of course, are grandparents who offer that Mr. Rogers’ loving-you-just-the-way-you-are. And who doesn’t need a little of this in hard times, even if that love comes from past stories you tell your children or memories that they have in common with you. Real time or otherwise, this unconditional love matters. In his poem “The Table,” poet and essayist Donald Hall wrote about this very thing when he was remembering his grandfather: “While my grandfather talked forever in a voice that wrapped me around with love that asked for nothing.”
And grandparents can offer special harbor during these times. My grandchildren, ages 11 and 8, live in San Francisco and both of their schools are currently in remote learning. In the middle of last week, I got a text from them asking to FaceTime with me: unusual in the middle of the day. Before I texted back, I got another text: “Never mind, Mimi, we have to wait until 3:15. We’ll get back to you then.” Busted…but I’m glad that when they tried to skip school, they texted me.