It is not often in todays society that a grandchild has the privilege of intimately getting to know their grandparents. Tomorrow marks the end of five whole weeks that I have lived with my grandmother and grandfather in their apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. I obtained this privilege of spending this time with the elders on my father’s side of the family by willingly agreeing to be a helping hand as my grandfather recovers from an operation. And this time has truly been a gift for me as much as for them.
How often does one get to see a couple, married for almost sixty years, still vibrant with love for each other? And how often does a young woman trying to navigate the labyrinths of relationships and the world get the chance to speak honestly and openly with her grandparents who have lived, and are continuing to live in their 80’s, such rich fulfilling lives and seek guidance from them? During this month I have heard the stories of how my grandfather and grandmother each found themselves on their path. I heard about the unexpected marriage of psychotherapy and art that led my grandfather to become one of the founding names in the Art Therapy Movement. And about the group of mothers upset about a park closing that led to the birth of my grandmother’s Shadow Box Theatre, a musical puppet theatre for children. I have learned some basic healing techniques and experienced some of my grandmother’s profound healing work. I have seen the power in doing work you truly love, your soulcraft, and the gift such work brings to the world. At 83 years old, with no real knee and on a daily IV antibiotic, my grandfather insists on returning to work as soon as possible. For three weeks now he has been holding his supervision groups and seeing patients and I have watched it bring life back into him. And I have seen my grandmother stretched thin as she wakes up at 4am to work on a grant for her non profit theatre. And yet she returns home from a show filled with renewed energy as she tells me of the public school teacher that gave her big hugs and thanked her for her work. And I cannot help but be inspired and uplifted as I sit in the audience of one of her shows, in an auditorium filled with public school children who are cheering and singing with the characters of the story. These are stories of substance that address issues of race, gender, the environment, and culture, as well as bullying and safety among other things. This is the kind of art that truly enriches a child’s education and helps them grow into a conscientious person.
I have watched how my grandfather’s face lights up when he hears my grandmother walk in the door, and I have watched how she loves him from a place of utmost acceptance and non-judgment. I have seen a more playful, laughing, and smiling side come out of my grandfather- a side I always sensed was there but rarely before had the privilege of seeing. And I have had honest, heartfelt conversations with both of them about my own struggles; the different professions I am considering going into, the process of healing after the death of a close friend, and the choosing of the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. To be able to ask advice, receive insight, and learn from one’s own grandparents in an intimate and heartfelt way, as well as to be able to give back and help them in a meaningful way is a truly beautiful experience.
Guidance and mentoring between generations has been an integral part of almost every culture worldwide except the modern western culture. This, to me, feels like a huge loss. We have much to learn from our elders and much to give them as well and I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to fully partake in this exchange. Tomorrow I will leave with new insights, a backpack a few books heavier, and a more intimate love and understanding of who my grandparents are. Hamdallah.