On the piano in our living room sits my favorite picture of my grandmother. It was her 70th birthday and she’s sitting in her stuffed rocker with her legs tucked up under her and arms folded across her chest. And smiling that I’m so into trouble smile! They say getting old is not for wimps. I can relate. But, in the face of the inevitable, I do believe I had the best of role models. Recently, I had the great blessing and surprise to see her face again and I saw myself in a whole new way.
It happened in an exercise Tree of Life minister Rev. Amy Wood brought to us. We were asked to simply stare at our reflection in a small mirror to just see if we could notice the Beloved there. My first response was, Oh my, I’m looking old! Then, looking closer, I noticed the new, just barely forming, lines on each side of my mouth and suddenly, like a jolt from the past, right there starting back at me was my grandmother’s face. And, in that exact moment, I could feel my ecstatic heart skip a beat as I realized that in not too long a time I, too, will have my grandmother’s face.
Yes, ecstatic! You see, my grandmother was my bus driver. What…you say? Well, when I used to teach psychology, a study I enjoyed relaying to my students was one that followed a number of children, who had come from impoverished childhoods, into adulthood. They wanted to find out what made some children grow up to repeat harmful familial patterns and others not and what variables made the difference. One variable that showed up more often in the group that did not grow up to repeat harmful patterns was the experience of having had someone in their childhood who had been a very positive influence. One man interviewed said this person for him had been his bus driver. Jonathan, did you forget your lunch today? Where is your coat? Did you forget to put on your socks? The man said that his fondest childhood memories were getting to see his bus driver every day. His saddest days were when the weather was bad and school was canceled.
My grandmother was my bus driver. Every summer, I got to spend time at my grandmother’s house and those times saved me. And, as I have been sitting with the memories, what feels most poignant is what was not there, what was not necessary for her to so easily win the award for best bus driver ever. There were no long walks together. She never sat on the floor to play with me. There were no toys, let alone special ones. No full schedule with multiple activities designed to stimulate my developmental growth. There was no set bedtime routine. No intimate conversations or special moments of deep connection. No special activities or projects.
No, none of the usual things we often think need to be present for building intimate relationships were there. Ah, but what was there was that feeling I always had around her. She always seemed happy to see me, just happy to have me around. She would sometimes, just haphazardly, call me Baby. No one had ever called me a special name. So, every year I would count the months, weeks and then, finally, days until school was out so we could start heading back to my grandmother’s house. Yep, she was my bus driver.
Then, one summer as I, my mom and other relatives were sitting around the old dining table, I witnessed the humanity of my grandmother for the first time. I was a young woman by then and perhaps could then see what, of course, had always been there. My mom happened to make some simple comment and, suddenly, my grandmother lashed out at her in exactly the same tone and language I had often heard growing up from my mom. And, in a flash, I understood. Later, after much personal inner work, I would come to have great compassion for my dear mom because, in part, I realized that she had never had a bus driver. And, from that time on, my grandmother, who would remain my bus driver, lived ever more tenderly in my heart as I came to see the depth of those lines etched into her long lived face.
I am certain it is designed by Grace that, for those children picked up by bus drivers, perfection is not a job requirement.
I like to stress that we each have a role to play in the divine plan. You will often hear me talk of the importance of doing our unique work in the world. That we each have a sacred contract to fulfill. I do believe so. And, each day I go about my work with a deep and abiding gratitude and firm commitment to just being the best instrument I can be. And, nothing feels more important.
Yet, in this moment, I am wondering. Just wondering, aside from any good I may be able to leave behind, if anything could be sweeter than imagining that perhaps, just perhaps, one day one of my beautiful grandchildren may look in a mirror…long after I am gone…and, suddenly smiling, say…
I have my grandmother’s face.