I spent this past weekend at my grandmother’s villa just outside of Cairo. I had an interesting conversation with her that gave me a better understanding of the generation gap between us, a better understanding of her as a person. It was quite early on a Saturday morning, just after sunrise. I hadn’t slept well that night and I decided to give up trying. So after taking a shower, making myself a cup of coffee and enjoying a few moments of blessed peace walking around her incredible garden, while my daughter was still sleeping, I sat down with her in the living room with a view of said garden. We settled in to an easy chat, as we normally do, while watching the morning unfurl.
She was telling me about a female relative who was very sick in the hospital. And then we started talking about how most of our elderly relatives (especially in Sudan) have passed away. I was in a reflective mood that day. Maybe it was the clean air (as clean as you’ll get once you get out of the cesspool that is Cairo), maybe it was my rambling in the garden or lack of sleep. I’m not sure what it was but I made a passing comment to the effect that it was so important to live in the now, because once you get older, all sorts of ailments await you.
I didn’t expect much of a response from her. But what she said surprised me. She said “You know, people make all sorts of plans and they don’t know what God has in store for them. They think they have all the time in the world, but it goes by so fast. That is why you should never postpone your hopes and dreams. Whatever you want to do, do it now. As you get older, you lose your energy, your passion, your health.”
This sentiment might seem obvious, even trite. But it hit a nerve. Spoken by someone who was a product of a generation that married off their daughters when they were mere girls, teenagers really, those words were a welcome breath of fresh air particularly because I had recently been getting not so subtle hints from other female relatives that I should be planning for the second child. One aunt actually phrased it this way, “The effort it takes to have 2 children is the same as for one. So you might as well have the second child now since you’re already in the trenches.” (my grandmother scoffed at this). I will skip over the complete delusional lunacy of that statement, but here’s the truly insane part: When I mentioned that I would like to do something for myself first, she seemed shocked and said no man would accept this. No man would accept what, exactly? That his wife might aspire to more than a life of serving him and bearing his children? Anyways, I promptly nipped this lovely tête-à-tête in the bud because I was literally watching precious moments of my life pass by.
My grandmother may not have had any career ambitions, but having been widowed at a young age, she had to work to support her young children, whom she raised single-handedly into fine adults. She traveled, she built a beautiful house. This may not seem like much but it’s more than most people have done.
My grandmother has a young soul. No matter what she’s been through in her life, she’s maintained her sense of humor and her sharp, quick wit, always ready with jokes, a fount of stories. She didn’t lose touch with the changing times. She didn’t choose to mentally cocoon herself in her own comfort zone.
I’ve often wondered why some women, younger than my grandmother voice the most archaic of opinions while those from an older generation seem to have more modern sensibilities. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age or having seen too much of the world. But I’d like to think it’s more specific than that. It has to do with one’s attitude towards life and their willingness to adapt. Some people choose to adapt and move forward, others have no inclination to do so, and therefore, get stuck in one place while the world moves around them.
So in stark contrast to the “advice” I was being bombarded with recently, my grandmother chose to see me as a person by telling me there was nothing wrong with having ambitions that extend beyond the home and the family, that it was imperative to act on those ambitions now while I was still young and hungry. It’s so easy for mothers, even instinctual to delay the plans they had, choosing instead to focus on their children. Sometimes this breeds bitterness, sometimes a sad resignation that this is what God had in store for them all along. Either way, I think any mother would appreciate hearing that she, as an individual, still matters, that she still exists outside of her circumscribed role as a mother, that her dreams are valid, and that while she may have a responsibility to her family, she has an even greater responsibility to herself.