My Grandpa Lew was the first great love of my life. I was a colic ridden, fussy, un-soothable never sleeping baby. Literally, I was stressed from the moment I came out of the womb. The very first time I met my Grandpa, I cooed at him, and promptly fell asleep on his chest, leaving a huge puddle of drool on what I am sure was a very nice shirt.
My little 3 or 4 day old self knew that I had found safety.
From that day forward, we had an unshakeable bond. He was (and still is) the idyllic grandpa that people may feel only exist in stories. He was doting, caring, attentive and would bend over backwards for me. I remember him spending hours listening to me, the little toddler, then little child ramble about whatever children at that age ramble about. He would push me on the swing until it was too dark and cold to be at the park. He would shower me with complements. I could see in his eyes that he thought I was perfect. He was also a gift giver. I cannot begin to imagine how many stuffed animals I have because of him. He spent more money on me than anyone else ever has, and I am sure ever will.
When I was very young, his gifts made me feel like I was the most special person on the planet. There would always be a gasp and a flip of my tummy when he would present me with a new teddy bear or toy. I would dance and sing with my new gift, loving whatever he had given me more than I would had someone else given me the same thing. His gifts were saturated with his love. In the beginning, I was pure gratitude. I accepted and received his gifts with joyful abandon.
Then I started to realize some things about myself.
As I ventured into school, I started to see that the other children did not think I was as great as my grandpa thought I was. My parents were more practical with their love. I was not adored. I was even told that there were things about me I could stand to fix. I could be quieter. I could pay closer attention to the teacher. I could be more fun. I could be smarter. I started to see that maybe I was not as special as my Grandpa had made me out to be.
As I grew older, I started to feel pangs of guilt whenever he would give me a gift. ”That is too much money Grandpa!” I would exclaim. ”No really, you don’t have to buy me things.” I started to feel that there was no possible way I was deserving of all of this goodness.
I could not possibly be as wonderful as he thought I was.
His love had not changed. He was still the same old Grandpa Lew that loved me with all of his heart. I was just becoming less and less able to accept that love. My gratitude faded into a mixture of regret for ever expressing a want or a need, shame that I had made this man feel he needed to do something for me, and disbelief that I really should be given anything.
My heart had began to close. Bubbles of joy became pangs of anxiety. I pushed him away. I pushed everyone away.
I went through a very dark time – if you have ever read this blog you will know that I went through anorexia, traumatic schooling, traumatic religious experiences, instability in my home life and a million other little life dramas. I have been down the road all the way to total self hate. I hated who I was, what I was, who I wasn’t. And I had no room in my heart to have someone around me who adored me. That was just to painful.
As I have journeyed back from that dark place, I see now what gratitude really is.
I see what being truly grateful requires that you be open and receptive to what the giver is giving. To be open and to receive is a very feminine act. To be truly receptive, you have to be vulnerable. To fully be in gratitude to someone means that you have opened yourself to them. Vulnerability is scary. When I was young I didn’t know that there could be things wrong with me, things that people may see and then reject. When I learned that I had faults, quirks, neuroses, I felt shame. Embarrassed. I could no longer open my heart for my Grandpas gifts to the degree of feeling gratitude, because I was afraid of what my dear grandpa might see when I did. Although he had never made any indication that he may reject me, I felt that there must have been things about me he had missed. He had not perceived my lowliness, and I did not want to disappoint him by showing him how very imperfect I was.
I started to reject all forms of nourishment. I stopped allowing people to hug me. I stopped wanting Christmas gifts and birthday celebrations. I refused to buy new clothes. I stopped eating. I stopped having an social relationships. People would try to love me, to gift me with attention or food or time and all I felt was unbearable guilt. Gratitude was not even a blip on the radar.
Now that I have come out of this experience, I know what it feels like to receive again. It took a long time, and a few very persistent people to show me that maybe I was not all bad. I started to be kinder to myself, to give myself rest, and permission to eat. I started to let people back in, petrified as I was that they would hate what they were going to find. The walls around my heart began to crack.
Sitting here now 5 years recovered, I can say I still have moments where I feel guilt rather than gratitude.
And you know what? That is O.K. I have neuroses. I have quirks. I still have days where I want to obsess about my calories. Or get up and workout even though what I really need is sleep. I am a clean freak. I am fickle. I am flaky. I micromanage. I demand to much of myself, and often too much of others. The difference now is that I know that none of the above mentioned things are “Me.” These are parts of the personality that I have put on in this lifetime. That is all. Just as I will leave this body one day, I will leave those quirks. The “Me” that is truly “Me” knows that all of this will fade away one day. That one day the last person who has a memory of me will leave this earth, and there will be no trace of who I was.
So I stand in my quirks, I stand in my obsessions. I stand in my perfect, Divine, imperfection. With all that, I allow my heart to open. I allow myself to stand in that vulnerable place where I can be rejected, because that is also the place I can feel gratitude. Where I can meet with another soul on a level that has no language. Because it is worth it.
My grandpa showed me what true love looked like. He changed my life, and to him I will always be grateful. I am sad for the moments that we missed because I was to caught up in myself to allow him to love me. I am better able not to miss those moments now.
Don’t let your quirks keep you from gratitude. They are all going to fall away one day anyway.