Who are the teachers who have most touched you, and what is the path that brought them into your life? Mother’s Day invites me to contemplate the teachers I’ve had who are grandmothers.
Saturday night, I received a name, a teaching and prasada (divine food) from Srimati Uma didi. One of the astounding aspects of these gifts is the idea that this sweet and devoted little old lady carried them all the way from sacred land in India to bring them to me, because I clearly needed them, but she had no idea when she boarded the plane that I exist, and probably will give little thought to me as she continues her journey to enliven devotees around the world. But I felt her faith and it was clear that she could see my struggle with faith. I’m embarrassed to admit that at first I hesitated to accept her offering of food, defaulting to this learned idea that I’m not worthy. Oh, the look she gave me! I did my best to humbly understand that I could offer her the gift of giving me a little push in the right direction.
Because that is the truth of unconditional love. Our gift is to receive it without hesitation. It is love. It is infinitely sourced and “taking” it does not deplete the stores. And when it is genuinely unconditional, it doesn’t even hold the obligation of taking it in, but not doing so (as she clearly showed) would be just plain needlessly stupid. Unconditional love is God. Who am I to reject that? But I’m new on the spiritual path, so a more earthly model for understanding this kind of love is a crutch I need, and the name that works for me right now is Grandma love.
What is Grandma love? It’s the love that becomes possible after you are done with the hardest work parts of this life, when you are finally free to sit down a bit and be with what is. I know mother love, and I know that it is deeply sourced, always on, and unblockable (not that I’ve ever wanted to block it), but I’m mindful of the truth that I haven’t loved my kids unconditionally. You see, I WANT them to come out okay so that I can get “credit.” I obsess too much about their suffering, seeing it as something to help them avoid rather than a great opportunity for them to find their selves, empathy, and skill set. I am attached to them like I’m attached to breathing. So for me, this is Mama love, but I can start to picture what it will be like to express Grandma Love, because I have seen it. I’d like now to explore those memories.
First, I remember being in the puddle of my Grandma’s love. She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, didn’t shower us with doting and gifts, had precious little investment in helping us make one decision vs. another, because what she did have was absolute and unconditional love for whatever it was we showed up as. There were times when I realized I could help with the dishes, or wanted to make comfort for her physical world, but I never questioned whether it was OK to bask in this love. I didn’t consider that it cost her too much, or whether it was deserving. Questioning it would be like denying the sun, the rain, the air. When my mom picked my dad, his mother came along as part of that package, and so, I’m grateful that she chose so wisely.
And I have watched as my parents have each crossed over into Grandma Love. Not just because grand children showed up, but towards me as their child as well. I remember the specific night when I watched my mom cross over.
I was in my late teens/early twenties and I drove to the Cape to spend the evening with “Mom and Joe.” I had some problem that felt urgent, and I needed her advice. We had a practice of sitting at the table after the dishes were cleared and talking about whatever was up. She often gave really pragmatic, no frills advice. She always has a clarity of what is relevant that I deeply admire. She indulges very little in the fantasy world that so many of us live in. When she was drinking, sometimes there would also be the delight of her getting a little exuberant and bawdy. As a young woman, it felt awesome to discover that my mom could swear, that she understood sexuality better than she’d ever let on, and that she had deeply negative opinions to express about assholes who just don’t get it.
So I don’t remember the problem, but I remember the drive down, the intention to speak, the waiting for the right time when all of the other distractions were passed. As I could assume she would, she listened attentively. I probably talked too long and with too much drama, but at some point, I finally paused. She replied:
“That sounds really hard, what do you think you are going to do about it?”
And that was all she would give me! What? It might have been her new sobriety, or that I’d been living on my own for long enough, or that the problem was trivial and she knew it. This was a change point for me, for her, in our relationship — this new addition of her demonstrating Grandma love.
It was unconditional love. She saw me. She heard me. She knew I had either the resources to solve this problem myself or the need for the lessons that would come from failure. I can’t say I felt gratitude at that time, but today, as I watch my own first born figure out prom, college lists, SAT strategies and his own budding spiritual path, I’m feeling like bowing to her for giving me this model. And wondering if it possible for a child, even a middle aged pre-menopausal child, to feel that same kind of unconditional love back toward her adult parent?
Because that is the second and more amazing part of this story.