My grandmother’s name was Joyce, a name she detested but a name that was very fitting. She was a grown up kid in most respects; and less grown-up, way more kid. Her favorite comment was “oh, pooh to that” which she would say to any convention she planned to summarily reject. “It’s too early for a drink”, “it’s too cold to sit outside” and my favorite “you will spoil the kids” were regularly dismissed with a glint in her eye and a clear defiance of ‘the rules’.
She was the kind of grandmother every kid wants. She had a candy jar she kept fully stocked with candy for us (in New Zealand we would call this a lolly-jar, and lollies, respectively). When we got to her house my brother and I would race in and open the cupboard to see what lollies were there for us. “Oh pooh to that” was her response to my parents protestation that we had either eaten too many lollies or that we were learning bad manners by racing into the house like that.
I learned a lot about the power of stubbornness from her. She also taught me a lot about joy. Ironically the name she hated was the perfect name for her. She never did anything she didn’t want to do - well, not without resistance. She did what she wanted and she did it the way she wanted to do it. She used the good china and didn’t care if it got chipped, what was the point if we didn’t use it? She would eat dessert first if that’s what she wanted. She bought new furniture because she was bored with the old stuff. She lived her life in the moment, doing the things that brought her joy.
A huge part of her life was her love of her garden. It was spectacular: a meticulously cultivated large-scale rambling cottage garden. It was huge and full to bursting with roses and every other imaginable flower. Every visit we would pick roses together for me to take home. Every birthday she would bring me roses from the garden. Those sweet smelling, big bloom roses that you can only get from a home garden. I loved meandering the rose bushes with her: learning all the plant names and smelling the roses.
When she was dying I was lucky enough to get home to New Zealand and spend some time with her. True to form, she timed her passing with the peak of the Bluff oyster season. It used to be a very short season where, for a few months, the best oysters in the world (seriously, no contest) were available. So she spent her final days drinking champagne, eating oysters and then died about 2 days after her birthday - she was never one to miss a party.
I was in our garden a few days after her death, tackling the wild rose bush in our front yard. It was a beast, a tangled mess of thorny branches with the most stunningly fragrant yellow roses. Pruning it was a labor of love but, like my Gran, I was always happy to care for my roses. This day I noticed a bird flitting around energetically; not unusual but it stayed with me the entire time in the garden, wherever I went it followed me. I felt like it was keeping watch over me. I felt it was my Gran.
I’ve never had that feeling before, it wasn’t enough to make believe in reincarnation but it was certainly enough at the time to make me think a little differently. Reincarnation is a pleasant idea, I like the idea that my soul lives on after I go. I like the idea that how well I show up in this life will serve me in another life. I like the idea that death is not final. It’s comforting.
It doesn’t really matter. It quickly can become an intellectual exercise and what’s way more important is the practice of how we live our life. My Gran taught me not to take life too seriously, to use the good china, to live for today and, most importantly, to stop and smell the roses. I needed to see that bird and I needed to have the reminder of all she taught me that I probably didn’t really understand as fully that day as I do now.
It’s eleven years since she passed away. I have lived so many lifetimes since then. I don’t live at the same house and I don’t have a wild rose bush to tame anymore. Now I live in West Hollywood, in many ways a concrete jungle but it’s also a part of the city that that my Gran would love. Yes, it’s close to a lot of great shopping, she would so approve, but it’s also resplendent with roses and hedges of fragrant white jasmine. So every day when my dog and I go for a walk we stop. We stop for a moment in time and take a breath. He’s probably sniffing other things but I like to think he’s smelling the roses. I’m smelling the roses. I’m thinking of my Gran and I’m thinking how fleeting life is and that I’m glad I am taking this moment.
We all need a place where we take a moment. All it takes is one intentional breath to re-calibrate ourselves: to hit the reset button. It might be filling your water-bottle, making a coffee, stopping at a red light, waiting for the elevator or waiting for your computer to power-up. It doesn’t matter where it is, just find your moment, find the space in your day: be sure to take the time to stop. And smell the roses.