I didn’t choose this life. But certainly I make some choices. Like most people, I have a mother. And my mother has a mother. Which means that I have a grandmother. (I like to abbreviate grandmother as G’ma in writing.) About 5 years ago, I became G’ma’s care-taker because I was still living at home and she needed care. My mother couldn’t do it alone and here I was, going to the University of Washington, studying all sorts of somewhat irrelevant-to-life knowledge that I really have only put to use in helpimg other students in the same educational system.
After six years of filling my mind with all sorts of ideas and knowledge, I graduated and not much had changed—my grandma still needed care and my mother couldn’t do it alone. Around this time, G’ma got diagnosed with dementia, something similar to Alzheimer’s—an excuse my family keeps citing to explain their own frustrations with G’ma. The funny thing is: she is the most sane person in my family. And she’s taught me a great deal about how to live a full life—with 95 years and 34 progeny under her belt.
First, G’ma always reminds that life is long. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of city life, with all these seemingly important people, demands, schedules, meetings, deadlines, events, happenings, etc. that all seem so important in the moment, but disappear into nothingness pretty soon after—much like G’ma’s memory about unimportant things. She’s not tripping. And I shouldn’t either.
Second, G’ma always reminds me that love, kindness, understanding and acceptance are strength, while being right, fighting, even striving to get what you want is weakness. (This also seems to be her secret to longevity—that and hot water, milk, bananas, socks and prayers).
So often, I’ll get what I want, only to realize I don’t actually want it and the other things it came with. Like another great grandma said: “People won’t remember what you said or did, but how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou). When you understand others, it’s easy to be good to them, so seek understanding. When you can’t understand them, be kind and accepting to others—you don’t know what they’ve been through. And, of course, spread the love—it’s infinite, it’s life.
Third, and lastly, G’ma always reminds me that it is the spirit that gives life. Her and Jesus both understand that (hu)man does not live on bread alone. My mom has had an incredibly hard life—she’s the strongest person I know besides G’ma. I left for a few days and G’ma couldn’t walk anymore. This has happened before and I’ve helped nurse her back to health with love, prayers, good Korean food, and acupuncture. As soon as I came home and told her we were going out to see some other elders, she stood up, as if nothing was wrong, and off we went in my little beat-up ’99 civic to Club Bamboo, ACRS’ elderly program.
As an artist and educator, I received an artists grant from 4Culture to create a music video with my students and the elders in our community to a song I wrote called “SOBEBA (So Breathe Easy & Be Aware). “ I’m dropping the music video this Tuesday, July 7, 2015 as a fundraiser for the Grandma Project—a group of original songs, a multi-generational concert-series, a music video, and a documentary—that honors our elders and traditions and passes down their wisdom to future generations. (Look up Grandma Project on GoFundMe.com and visit www.SOBEBA.com for more info.)
When I see G’ma’s face, I smile—she smiles back. And life is good. I implore you, go tell your G’ma, or her spirit, that you love her and thank her for all she did to make your life possible. It ain’t easy taking care of someone, watching them turn back into a child, and eventually pass onto the spirit world. But love makes everything good. SOBEBA (So Breathe Easy & Be Aware)!