3 lessons from my grandfather

Instead of building homes for those poor Guatemalan children or “teaching” Laotian villagers English, I’m going to be seeing my grandfather back in China in a few days. It’s always the highlight of my year since we’re so similar, and since he likes to show off the English he has learned over the past year to me. I’m thrilled to see what I’ll look like in seventy years–complaining about my back every morning, walking around a tiny courtyard over and over, and feasting on any greasy dish I can get my hands on. Recently, I’ve thought about what I have learned from him, and here are three lessons I’ve come up with.

  1. Learn to laugh a little, and play the cards you’re dealt.

My grandfather’s only child is half a world away; he lives right next to the bathroom of his nursing home (he tells me he finds it convenient) that releases putrid odors on an hourly basis; he can barely walk; he eats food that may be the worst I’ve seen in my life. However, he isn’t one to complain. My grandpa enjoys whatever life throws at him. He finds joy in the simple tasks he still can perform, such as reading the news every morning, watching TV shows about health and international affairs, and brushing up on his English by reading some books my mom brought over. He takes quick walks whenever he can, watching the laundry gently bristle in the breeze and hearing the birds chirp life-affirming morning hymns. From him, I’ve learned to appreciate whatever I have, because it could be much worse.

2. Move on, move on, move on.

When my grandmother passed away five years ago, he remained calm, yet I had nightmares for a month straight. If I were in his position, I don’t know how many chocolate bars and soap operas I’d go through as self-imposed therapy, how many tissue boxes I’d use up in my daily bouts of tearful remembrance. My grandfather took it quietly, slowly. He began to re-arrange their shared room, stored some of their mementos from years past under his bed, and started going about his daily routine. Even when faced with his own eventual death, he remains effervescent, hopeful, and sagacious. It’s amazing to see someone so cool-headed that’s related to my mother, whose caprices I can barely handle at times. I truly admire his resilience to adversity–he remains my muse to this day.

3. Don’t bother others.

One of his defining personal philosophies was to not bother others. He never asked anyone for help with errands or events he could take care of himself. If he fell down, he picked himself back up, no matter how painful or how slow it took. He’s always been a fighter: daring, self-reliant, boldly independent. It’s this trait that has permeated throughout our entire family. In this way, I’ve learned to solve my own problems, find out my own answers, and see things for myself before I believe them. My grandfather has molded me to become a more inquisitive, thoughtful, and reliable person, for which I am forever grateful.

These days, I’ll keep on thinking of the inconspicuous, comforting grin he bears daily; the methodical way he darns his socks; his dazzling eyes that scan the paper for interesting articles to discuss with us. I can’t wait to be home.