Last night, as we lingered at the table for a couple of hours after eating dinner, my grandma told me and my mom stories.
She told us about her childhood and the early years of being married to my grandfather.
I was captivated. I always am by these kinds of moments.
I love learning about the lives my loved ones lived before the thought of me even existed. I like remembering that these people, whom I think I know so well, lived full, entire lives before I was ever born.
As I sat listening to my grandmother speak, I also had the overwhelming, all-encompassing understanding that I love her—greatly and fiercely.
I recently wrote an article for Elephant Journal in which I discussed a seeming revelation I’d had that I did not, in fact, love her.
I thought I’d had this unique, powerful insight, and I wanted to be able to share it, especially since the content of my thoughts was so contrary to what I had ever heard anyone admit out loud. I felt proud of my willingness to not only admit to my feelings, but to release the vulnerability of the understanding to the world.
I’d wanted to convey the complexity of interpersonal relationships, and the multidimensional nature of our feelings and emotions, yet I ended up being so resolute, so final, and so unwavering in the conclusion of my feelings.
I didn’t leave room for the possibility that maybe what I’d been feeling wasn’t a lack of love, but an attempt at trying to define something that was undefinable.
Sometimes it’s difficult to adequately put words to what we feel.
We tend to live our lives with firm opinions about what is right or wrong, good or bad, wanted or unwanted. It almost feels like an inherent need we have to define, determine, and set concrete, impenetrable boundaries around what we think we know, believe, and understand.
We like knowing what we believe and we like taking ownership of it—wearing our beliefs like badges we can proudly display to the world.
We like to put words and labels to our feelings, probably because it helps us to make sense of the variance that twirls and swirls in there. We like to believe that our thoughts and beliefs are definite, that we can decide upon something and hold to it with unwavering resilience.
But life is fluid and complex, and no matter how much we’d like to neatly package it into easily digestible ideas, we can’t. And when we attempt to do this, we obfuscate the inherent intricacies. We also block ourselves from understanding that what we think we observe in a particular moment is but a limited view of something far greater.
Of course, we do not have to love everyone, or anyone, and we need to allow ourselves to feel whatever we feel. But we should also be willing to acknowledge when something changes, when we have a new insight or understanding that shifts everything we thought we had previously understood. Especially when it is something that we have spoken about so starkly and definitively.
When I felt the inspiration to write this article earlier this morning, I hesitated. I had been so decisive in my last one and so fervent in my beliefs that we should be willing to feel our feelings without judgment.
How would it make me look to write this now? To reveal that, what I thought was a powerful understanding, was merely my inability to see beyond the immediacy of my specific thoughts? What would it mean to admit that I’d misinterpreted my feelings?
But then, that’s the whole point of this anyway. It’s actually the very essence of what I am wanting to convey.
We have to let ourselves feel whatever we feel, and we have to be open to learning what our experiences have to teach us.
We have to be willing to allow for new insights to infiltrate the walls we’ve erected. We have to be open to accepting that sometimes our perceptions change. And we especially have to be willing to allow for the change when it contradicts something we thought we’d understood so precisely.
Last night, I realized how strongly I love my grandmother.
As she told me about a gold powder case that my grandfather gave to her when she was 21 years old, tears filled my eyes. She was almost 10 years younger than I am now.
And as I imagined my grandfather walking into the store as a young man, trying to find her the perfect gift, the sweetness of the image overpowered me. I felt I’d been graced with a glimpse into a world I’d not previously known existed.
I love my grandma. My feelings may be complex and laced with varying thoughts and emotions, but there is a current of love that flows steadfastly within me.
Maybe I don’t have to dissect and analyze every single one of the feelings I feel. Maybe doing that obscures more than it reveals.
Maybe I love my grandma, and the rest of it doesn’t need to be defined at all.