My grandmother was born in Beirut, Lebanon. She was raised in a Protestant household and only attended school until the 8th grade. She married young and for a vast majority of her life she was a dedicated wife and stay at home mom raising three daughters mostly on her own as my grandfather often traveled for work. She was deeply talented but didn’t have a career per se. Her family was her life. It wasn’t until she had moved to New Jersey age the age of 47 that she got her driver’s license. My grandmother was, to her dying day, the complete antithesis to who I am today. I struggled with accepting the complacent life she led, but despite our differences she is the only person I’ve felt unconditional love from.
As a child, I thought my grandmother was the bees knees! She was exceptionally beautiful, elegant, extremely fashion forward, nurturing in nature, always fun to be around and she made me feel loved. When I was in the first grade and came down with chicken pox, I had to go stay with her in order to not infect my sister. I wasn’t even sad to be away from my own family because being with my grandmother made me feel like the luckiest kid ever even if I did have tiny red blisters all over my body. I was grateful to those itchy ugly spots that afforded me the opportunity to spend time with my grandmother, even if it meant watching her favorite soap opera General Hospital duirng the day and Dallas and Dynasty at night. I never understood how, but my grandmother would follow the storylines, watch the show and she would knit and crochet the entire time. I would try to mimic her crocheting and bless her heart she patiently tried to teach me, but I think deep down inside she knew I was never going to catch on. I remember the days we would climb into her classic 1960’s Ford for our an exciting outing to J. J. Newberry (she was a fan of the five and dime) and lunch at McDonald’s (she was a fan of the Filet-o-Fish). When I would get bored at the house she would cut out paper dolls and clothes from magazines for me to play with. She was so creative! She knew that I loved to look at pictures so she would sit with me and look through photo albums and tell me stories about all the photos from Beirut, Baghdad and New Jersey.
When my mother fell ill, grandma moved in with us and she and I became roommies. I grew to cherish our nightly ritual of watching Cheers and M*A*S*H. I got accustomed to coming home from school and finding warm baked goods like boureg and her famous namoura on the counter waiting for me. My grandmother being there helped me adjust to my new life without my mom. When she noticed that I no longer was reciting my evening prayer she ever so gently coaxed the reason out of me and upon finding out that I didn’t feel comfortable with the script of the prayer made up a brand new prayer for me to recite that was much more fitting to my new normal. To this day each time I recite that prayer I’m reminded of her compassion and love. I remember one rainy day in particular when I got home and was soaking wet, with my entire school uniform drenched from the rain. She instantly ran me a hot bath and when I got out ,she was waiting with a warm towel she had put in the dryer. That is what my grandmother did. She cared for you. She made you feel so loved you could swear you were the only person she loved and cared about that much, but her gift was that she was able to make everyone she came in contact with feel that same exact way.
As I moved into adulthood, traveled around the world, graduated from College, then Grad School and began my career, I found I had less and less to talk to my grandmother about. All she wanted was for me to find someone to settle down and have kids with. She didn’t understand why I wanted to pursue an education and advance my career because she felt a man would take care of me the way my grandfather took care of her. She didn’t get why I wasn’t all consumed with the idea of finding a husband. I on the other hand, couldn’t understand why that was all she cared about and wanted for me. Was that really her measure of success and happiness in life? Yes…It was. It took me years to understand and accept that. For my grandmoather that was the measure of success and happiness because my grandmother was, a woman from another era. She may have been alive and living in the 21st century, but her life and her reality were that of another time when women didn’t pursue higher education, when women didn’t have careers and when happiness was derived from simply caring for your family.
During my grandmother’s funeral I was a hot mess. Listening to her ulogy I leanred that during the war, when the family needed more income she stepped up and worked for the British army as an operator! How did I not know this tidbit about her life? It angered me that all of a sudden I was proud of her at a time that I was also realizing that my grandmother lived an honorable and selfless life dedicated to loving her family. Now that she has passed, I’ve come to realize there’s something else about her and the way in which she chose to live her life that I admire more than just her service to the British Army. My grandmother was able to LOVE! That is MAJOR! In a world where people are not always kind, in a world where people often only look out for number one, in a world where people are capable of hurting the ones who love them, she was able to keep loving.
At a time in my life when I was feeling more defeated and broken down than ever before and questioning my faith because of the lack of goodness in people’s hearts, I was able to find strength in the example my grandmother set for me with her life. Just as I was starting to slip into a dangerous dark place and allowing myself to become jaded and so cynical that I no longer wanted to be a good person and do good deeds, I found that if nothing else, the one thing my grandmother did with her life was set an example for me. Her life and grace are a comfort to me now and even in her death she never ceases to amaze me by showing me that despite all the bad seeds in the world, I must keep my head high and keep being true to myself. I must keep doing my good deeds and being a good person and throwing it all out there in the ocean… As my grandmother said…even if no one hears of the good deeds or appreciates them… at least the fish will know!