My grandmother has always been unapologetically intelligent, the kind of funny that only comes from smarts, and the perfect amount of sarcastic bite behind her smile. She embodied all of the things that you will never find in someone that has become watered down and molded to fit. I am sure, somewhere along her life, she managed to annoy or piss someone off, probably because they found themselves feeling inferior or insecure in some way but blaming it on her personality. And I imagine that she would have taken that as one takes a tiny bug bite on an otherwise beautiful day, because it would have been their problem if being around a strong and smart woman made them feel little. Don't get me wrong, my grandma was never belittling or obnoxious... never pretentious. But she has lived a lot of life with a lot of family and stories and lessons crammed into it, and coming out of that with wisdom and a wealth of knowledge, the kind that only comes from experiences, is nothing to be ashamed of or stifled. It is a badge. More than that, it is a quality and a treasure. Having both a life that is full and the ability to understand it all so well that you have a proverbial vault of knowledge, advice, and insight is what being rich is to me. So, if a few fell away along the way, it only means that the ones that were still around as she trucked on were the right ones. Those were the people that were worthy and deserving of her presence, and in turn, had equal bits of awesome they could share back to her.
My grandmother has always been strong, independent, and the rock that I compared myself to when I felt like something might be insurmountable. She raised 9 kids and none of them came out of it missing limbs, despite their own best efforts. She worked, she traveled, and she soaks up the world through an insatiable appetite for reading, trying new things, and talking to people about anything you can come up with. She is the woman that warned us never to put her in a home, and made damn sure it would never even be a consideration, because she just refused to get old. I am pretty sure she could still walk, kayak, hike, and read circles around me until very recently in our lifetime.
Her presence when I was a child changed the way that I perceived everything that would come at me through the rest of my life. She is the reason I read books instead of watching TV, or sleeping, even when kids my age were enamored with going to the beach and Ren and Stimpy cartoons. She is why I questioned things that those around me seemed to think I should be accepting as status quo. She is why I saw things for what they were, and why the experiences in my life are more than just tickers on a tape... why they are events that I took in, broke down, and took control over. Grandma is why I always try to look beyond my own bubble, see how my actions are rippling, and try to understand the motives behind why someone else sent the ripples my way that they did.
It hadn't occurred to me until yesterday why I get so defensive when someone might suggest that I tone it down for the sake of those around me; those that might find my natural state a bit hard to stand up next to... or at times maybe even in the same room with. I thought that it came purely from the knowledge that I have gained throughout my life, via experience, that the only person that gets anything good out of me watering myself down is the other person, and that I actually come out of things feeling terrible and small and cramped... like I was somehow trying to fit myself into a box that was the wrong shape and 40 times too small. But as I looked at the pillar of a woman that I have known my whole life as someone that would live forever, and she was frail (well, as frail as that woman can appear to me anyway) but loved by the good kind of people... that is when once again, my grandma made me think beyond what I thought I knew. This time, she wasn't even trying!
I see so much of her in me, and they are the parts of me that I have always and will always be the utmost proud of. When you ask me for my qualities, the ones I name with a smile are all of the ones I gave above for all that my grandmother is. I do not want to be less of those things. I want to be strong versions of them. I want to know that whatever comes my way is ok, that I will take it in and learn from it, and that I will give it right back out onto the world. Unapologetically.
And if that leaves me with a few less warm bodies taking up the space around me as friends, then I will know that I only have the good ones left. I will cuss and tease and talk about things I know, and they will love me for it. I love people and I will always welcome connections with those open to the same. I will try things and go places; I will meet people. And when I am still running circles around people half my age at 85 and 90 years old, and only the good ones are still there, I will know that I have been true to myself always. She taught me to value that, and I don't think she even knew she was doing it. My grandma is my Dagny Taggart in real life (though a good bit more cuddly than the character I relate her to), and I know that when she goes it will be the hardest thing I have had to deal with... not being able to reread that story and have her there again.
But I will truck on and be strong. It will suck but life will keep moving, and I will keep living undiluted.
My grandma taught me that.