I tell the story about one of my grandmother’s a lot. She was born in 1896, which means she’d be 127 now if she was still alive, which is kind of staggering. She died in 2001, which if my math is right, means she made it to 104, which is pretty staggering, too. My dad was her youngest child and I was his youngest child by a lot, which is why I’m not 80 right now.
Anyway, my grandmother was about 4-foot-10 and she loved art and books and music and deep thought. She wasn’t a positive person. This was not a woman who would give you a pep talk. Ever. I mean, if you think about it, she’d lived through two world wars and a depression.
She painted. She was embarrassed by her creations and would hide if her sons bragged about them.
She wrote poems. She said they were swill.
But she had this appreciation—this state of awe—for so many things.
She’d see a perfectly formed tomato and tears would come to her eyes. She’d touch her grandchild’s (or great grandchild’s) arm or cheek and marvel at the softness, the texture, the youth of their skin, the clarity of their eyes. She greatly appreciated things—small things and refined things.
A painting by me.
Because she fed a family during the Great Depression in Staten Island, she would wax poetic, in total awe, over butchering a piece of meat and bemoan the state of meat in grocery stores in the 1990s (and probably before that).
According to the Greater Good Magazine, “Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence.”
Every time I put something out (art, a news story, a blog post, a book, even something as simple as a Facebook post), I think of my grammy and how cool it would have been if she could have been okay with not being perfect and with sharing things she might want to share. I remember my little kid self looking at her paintings with awe and reading her poems and trying to understand the mystery in the enjambments and in the lines. I had fierce grandmothers, too. But Grammy Barnard? She was the one who fell in love with the world, one skin touch, one tomato, at a time.
May you feel awe today. May you be brave enough and open enough to let a tomato’s perfection bring you to tears. May you marvel in beauty of skin. May you inhale the world around you and embrace those things that make your understanding a tiny bit bigger.