Everything I know about love, I learned from my grandmother
By Richard Carey
Looking for respite from our anxieties and inner fevers, we have many different techniques and strategies available to us. Whether we choose yoga meditation or hypnotherapy or relaxation tapes, we are often first counseled to transport ourselves to a place in our memory or imagination where we can remain still and untouched by unsettling stimuli and the toxic tremors of our mortality. One, perhaps clichéd, destination is a perch high in the Himalayas, where we somehow breathe deeply of the thinnest air, and though skimpily clad, remain unaffected by the icy cold as we hold a perfect lotus pose. To be honest, that particular virtual destination and method has never worked well for me.
In the place where I go, as in any proper meditation, my thoughts become calm and focused. However, it is not my 7-year-old navel that I contemplate. All my attention is on a small wooden rack holding seven tiles, each with a letter and a numerical value. My opponent is my grandmother. She has modified the rules to make the game friendlier. We don’t keep score; the winner is the one who first uses all their tiles. I love this game.
We play in her kitchen, which comforts my retreating spirit in all of its parts. It’s a spacious kitchen, a useful kitchen, its perimeter lined with all her appliances and gadgetry of the time, including the ogreous meat grinder perched next to the sink, the big hour-glass-shaped coffee pot with its mysterious components. A small phone table sits under a back-corner window. I don’t remember much else about the decorative scheme — a lot of yellow, which in those times seemed to be a popular kitchen color. In the center is a small vinyl-topped table with a checkered tablecloth, white and yellow. This is where we sit when we play.
In the evening, it’s usually Scrabble or cards. However, these days, when I visit this place, it’s early in the morning, after my grandfather has gone off to his job at the steel mill, leaving just the two of us. Sunlight spills in from the window and through the screen door leading to the back porch.
My grandfather is a long-time reader of the Sunday New York Times, which he picks up after mass every Sunday morning. My grandmother is not a fan of the Times, but she does treasure the Sunday crossword. After all the breakfast things are washed and put away, she devotes about an hour each morning to the puzzle. I am irresistibly drawn to this activity. I sit beside her at the little table, immersed in her grandmotherly warmth. The Times puzzle is still too hard for me, mostly, but she has given me a little book of my own crosswords that I work on at her side. Such were the summer mornings of my childhood.
My love of language, words, and puzzles will stay with me all my life. Did my grandmother plant the seed or simply nurture it? It doesn’t matter. Of greater importance was the wealth of love in that little kitchen. Without any necessary articulation of my world-sense in my flowering young spirit, I felt safe. I felt safe because I was loved unconditionally, not only because I was her grandchild but because I somehow knew we were kindred spirits. Everything I know about love, I learned from her. Whatever capacity I have for giving and receiving love, was a gift from her. She’s been gone many years now, and the only thing I can do to repay her is try in my own small way to pass on her gift.
So, what is inner peace for me? It is a place where I am safe, where I am loved, where I am doing the things I love to do. It is a place in my memory that was real enough, but now seems beyond reality, though still accessible. I have other places too, some imaginary, but Grandma’s kitchen will always be at the center of my mandala.
As these articles go forward, I’d love to hear about your special place, no matter where it is or how you get there.
Richard Carey lives in Ashland and, when not facilitating the Inner Peace column, spends most of his time studying the Zen of idleness and scribbling out the occasional poem.
Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (email@example.com).