It’s funny… how a person can be out of their mind scared and wildly, ecstatically excited all at the same time. I suppose it’s a little like the feeling you have just before you get married; committing yourself to something totally new, not knowing where it will take you but knowing that you love it and that you can’t imagine your life without it; feeling on the verge of something bigger. This is how I feel in this moment, first ever article about to be published, heading off to my first writing conference, gingerly starting to call myself a writer. I am stepping outside of my comfort zone. My introvert self is tremulous and queasy. Self-promotion is not something that we are at ease with, she and I. But, I feel a compulsion to go… to stretch myself. I don’t do well with sitting still. I need to push and to grow. I need to write and to share. It is healing for my soul. It allows me to pursue my passions. It allows me to connect with other people and hopefully make a meaningful impact on their lives, even if they are not sitting right in front of me in my exam room.
Perhaps it is genetic, this unease with the status quo, this need to do more. My Grandmother, Helen, was this type of woman and I would like to think that I take after her just a tiny little bit. My grandmother lived life to its fullest. Though, from the outside you might not make this assessment. She did not own expensive dresses or lots of jewelry. She did not attend fancy parties or go on extravagant trips to see the world. But what she did do was get to the edge of her comfort zone and jump and that, in my mind, is what living life is all about. She battled her inner nay sayers, those demons that told her that she shouldn’t, that she couldn’t. She was a homemaker and had four wonderful children but she wanted more. She wanted something for herself.
In her midlife, as her kids grew, my Grandma Helen became an artist. She took lessons, pursuing painting and drawing, and eventually had her own space in an artists’ atelier and showed her pieces at local galleries. Putting your heart and soul onto a canvas and then inviting the world to see and judge your work takes guts. She was one of the bravest women I know. She was also, wonderfully, chock full of spunk. She told me once that, in a fit of frustration, she threw a pan across the room at one of her children. While I think she was giving confession in a moment of guilt (she was a good Catholic after all), I love this image of her; angry and frustrated, throwing parenting caution to the wind, letting skillet fly. I have no doubt that they deserved it, whichever child at which her kitchen weapon was directed. Don’t worry, no one was harmed. Fortunately, her aim was not that good (P.S. – I don’t condone violence and throwing things when you are angry. Though, I don’t judge anyone for the daydream of doing so now and again).
Some of my fondest memories of my grandma happened while playing cards at her kitchen table. Over our games of Gin Rummy, she taught me about life and love and the importance of living your dreams. She taught me that Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am is NOT an appropriate utterance when you beat your grandmother in cards (man, was she angry at me and, for the longest while, I had no idea why). She would talk of her younger days, of moving away from her small-town home in Montana during the war and going to work at the air force base in the big city of Spokane. She spoke of parties and dances and nylons and leg makeup. She spoke of the love of a Jewish boy and her regrets that it didn’t work out. She told me that she wished she had married a man whose last name was Wheels because then her name would be Helen Wheels.
She was a woman who lived and loved with her heart wide open. Towards the end of her life, when one might expect a person to begin their withering retreat into dust, she went and found herself a beau. She fell in love. It was a brief but meaningful romance, her love eventually moving away to be closer to his children. But she was never closed off, and all of those that know her and love her have always felt their place in her heart.
My grandmother is dying and I cannot be with her. While it is not unexpected (she is in her 90s), it is so very sad nonetheless. She has been an AMAZING grandmother and I will miss her terribly. Her body and mind are failing. She is on Hospice to keep her out of pain and to keep the hallucinations at bay. I think of her, in this moment of anticipation, on the precipice of something more, because she was a woman with spirit who lived her life with gumption. Though small and quiet, she was fierce. She had a fire in her belly and a drive to go farther. I hope to be just like her when I grow up.
So, off I go. Headed into a great unknown, excited and nervous, hopeful and scared, channeling my grandmother all the way. I hope that I can push my boundaries and pursue my dreams like she did. I hope to come out on the other end a stronger, more confident, and more engaged and connected me. I hope to be the inspiration in others’ lives that she has been in mine.
I love you so much Grandma and I am so lucky to have had you in my life. I hope I make you proud. You have been a wonderful role model and, to me, you will always be Hell on Wheels.