My partner’s grandmother (let’s call her Grandma for the purpose of this blog) turns 100 in November and we have just come back from a trip to Canada to celebrate her 100th year. It was a short, but fun trip, and it got me thinking a lot about what we measure in today’s world as a life well lived.
Family and Tradition
Many politicians in the Western world lament the breakdown of the family unit as one of the principal reasons for some of the societal problems we see today such as youth crime and unemployment.
In some respects I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.
Let me put it in the context of Grandma.
Grandma was born, raised, lived her whole life and still lives in Moose River, Nova Scotia. It’s a tiny place surrounded by trees and water (actually, Nova Scotia is largely just trees and water).
She had a husband who died nearly 30 years ago, and 3 sons. One son was killed in a tragic accident when he was only a teenager. One moved to the US to work where he remained and raised a family and one, my partner’s father, went on to have a very successful career as a Canadian Airforce fighter pilot and then a pilot for Air Canada.
Despite her sons not being in Moose River, Grandma remained there, as did most of her own siblings and their families. This resulted in a wide extended family of nieces and nephews, grandchildren and cousins.
I had the pleasure of meeting that extended family during our visit.
What We Remember
Staying in Grandma’s house, I witnessed dozens of family and friends drop by to say hello and pass on sincere birthday wishes. Listening in on the conversations I heard the same things:
“I always loved coming to visit from the US – there was always something tasty waiting for us in the oven”.
“I remember summers visiting you, the house would be full of people – sleeping everywhere! There was fresh bread, pies and cookies galore.”
“You always made me so welcome when I came to visit. It was never a bad time to drop by.”
I came to see that Grandma is more than just a family member. She is the lynchpin for a vast extended family, and she represents a truckload of memories and experiences from the time they spent in Moose River, Nova Scotia.
The Sunday Drop-in
My partner and I talked a lot about the “drop-in” while we were in Grandma’s house. My mum still does it. She has 2 or 3 friends and her brother that she just “drops-in” on – unannounced, no fanfare, no calendar note or phone call required.
Grandma has people do it all the time.
Yet our generation seems to have lost the ability to drop-in.
Is it our busy schedules (I have friends in Sydney I see more now that I live in Brisbane than I ever did while I loved in Sydney)?
Is it our growing human disconnection through being overly connected by technology?
Is it the fact that we are so much more mobile due to global opportunities (I am Scottish and have lived in Australia since I was 27)?
Or maybe it’s that we are so caught up in our own world that it doesn’t even cross our minds to do it.
What We Miss
My partner’s father has spent summer in Nova Scotia for the last 20 years and he, his wife and Grandma are now living their permanently.
He loves Nova Scotia. His favourite saying is “It’s not what we DO have here that makes it so special, it’s what we DON’T have.”
Unfortunately, perhaps the reverse applies in respect of our families and close relationships. It’s what we DON’T have, that we are truly missing.
I certainly miss the ability to drop-in on my mum and dad, my brothers and their families. I love my life in Australia, and while it’s my choice to live here, it comes at a price. One day that price may seem very expensive.
Work It Out People
This theme also plays out in our work relationships. Productivity is king, right? But does that involve the cost of missing out on valuable water-cooler chats, or lunches spent getting to know your colleagues?
And with email, even the once obligatory office drop-ins to discuss work in progress have become an endangered species.
As human beings we are driven by connection. Take time out of your day, every day, to nourish and nurture your working relationships. In the end, when you hit the ripe old age of 100, it’s the people in your life and your working history you will remember, not the size of the deals you did.
A Life Well Lived By Any Measure
Grandma is in reasonable health for her 100 years. Good enough health to tell us all how blessed she felt she had been in life – to have such good sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren (14 of them!), and to meet her Australian great-grandson. And how fortunate she felt to have lived a good life in Nova Scotia.
After all, a good life comes in many forms. As does greatness.
Happy birthday Grandma. It’s a privilege to know you.
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