When I need to channel courage, I think of my grandparents.
In 1955, my grandmother defied her mother, who had forbade her from marrying my grandfather. She took a train to South Carolina, where he was stationed, and they eloped on the army base.
They moved back to Philadelphia and had five sons. My Dad was the first. The middle son, Joe, died at the age of 39 from a malignant brain tumor. I was in college at the time. My grandfather drove up from Maryland, where he sat 24/7 with his son in hospice, to hear me perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
That he was able to smile that night in the face of heartbreak will forever astonish me.
The day after Uncle Joe died, my grandparents trekked up 95 North again to celebrate my brother’s 17th birthday. They sang Happy Birthday, had cake, and watched him open presents like always.
Their courage never wavered. I was blessed to say goodbye to Uncle Joe and my grandparents before they passed. Uncle Joe said, “Be patient. Everything’s going to be OK.” At 19, I thought he was talking about how scary it all was. I had no idea he was offering me my life’s mantra.
Grandmom was unable to respond but squeezed my hand when I told her a great-grandchild was on the way.
And Grandpop was simply dazzling. Bright, alert, and ready. We held hands at the end. “One of us has to let go, honey, and it won’t be me,” he said. “Enjoy your life.”
Shortly after, I left my job in academia and began the journey of offering my best self to the world.
Recently, I was going through Grandmom’s jewelry that Grandpop passed on. In an empty ring box, I found a note: “We are so proud of how humble you have remained despite all your accomplishments. Never forget us.”
I couldn’t believe they ever feared I would.
In college, I was sometimes embarrassed by my lack of musical experience. Many of my classmates came from musical families. They grew up attending the symphony and the opera. They sang in choirs.
I grew up eating too much ravioli and watching football every Sunday.
How would I ever measure up?
Of course, none of it mattered. Everything was OK, as Uncle Joe had promised.
I now know my family gave me the greatest gift of all: Witnessing the capacity of the human heart.
Now when I take the stage, I think of Uncle Joe laughing until his final moments. Grandmom holding space for our hearts, even as her own failed. And Grandpop shining until the end.
They all looked fear in the eye. “Bring it on,” they said.
Wrong notes and what others think seem so trivial in comparison.
I hope each of us can take the stage, enter the teaching space, and just go about our lives the same way. Meditation gives me the courage to say, “Bring it on.”
When you look fear in the eye, what do you say?
A trio of brave hearts. If I listen closely, I can still hear them laughing.