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Monday, September 22, 2008

Things I Would Tell My Grandmother

Little Helen is not doing well. I think above all else, she suffers most from a wound to her invisible heart. And that casts such a shadow on all other things, as it has colored everything in her life from birth to this moment. Now that her time is coming to an end, it seems so very sad. My mother is her mother's bridge to the world, and she is struggling to make things right for a person who is fundamentally unhappy.

I wish it were different for both of them. Today, The Boy asked me, if I had a magic wand, what would be the one thing I would change or fix. If I could, I would travel back in time to Little Helen, and try to tell her things, or show her things, that would have caused her to lead a different life, so that when she leaves this one, it is colored with hope, and not despair.

Isn't that what we all want?

To leave our mark on this world and know that we had some tiny, positive effect?
What else can we take comfort in?


I took these photos over the weekend in the Mission. As I thought about images and words I would share with Little Helen, my grandmother, I realized how little it takes for me, as I get older, to find enjoyment. I was surprised to see that in myself. It might only take a book that gives me something new to think about, or a walk where I might catch a glimpse of just one beautiful thing, or a new friend to meet for lunch and share a conversation about what she's doing and what I'm doing. I actively try to find those things all the time. I don't always succeed. But I always try.


It's too late to go back, to turn back the clock for Little Helen.
I am sad for her lost moments, her lost years.

"Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren't any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn't be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life's challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person." ~ Buckminster Fuller

Stenciled art found on a sidewalk on Valencia Street. I love the windblown leaf that graces one of the Fridas. A flourish of nature. It is a tiny beautiful moment that will vanish with the next gust of wind. I might have been the only one to ever witness this fleeting adornment, the leaf. I am glad I was there to capture it.

When I see the face of this woman stenciled on the sidewalk, although I cannot help reflecting on her broken body, I think about how incredibly strong her spirit was.

"Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want." ~ Margaret Young

Doll parts and trinkets at a garage sale. My grandmother spent years collecting little things: dolls, plates, bric-a-brac. Now in her nursing home, her room is bare. There is no room for personal possessions. What were those little things trying to protect her from, give to her? To someone else they are just things to be passed on, sold or discarded. In the end, these things can't bring you joy, can they? Would you hold onto them above all else?

"I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint." ~ Frida Kahlo

Mural on The Women's Building, Lapidge Street. To have something, a passion, a talent, an interest. Something entirely for yourself, that has nothing to do with children or husbands or friends. Something that gives you hope and purpose. Only you can find out what that thing is. You may have to try many different routes before you discover what it is that excites you, that makes you burn bright. But find that thing!

"What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." ~ Colette

Are you happy with where you are, who you are, what you've done so far? Yes, no, maybe so? If not, there's always room to fix it, move forward, move on, right? But you have to ask those questions first. Only you can make those changes for yourself. Only you.

"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." ~ Joseph Addison


I wish I had that magic wand. Somehow in writing this down, I almost feel that I do. Perhaps that magic wand is for me, to realize what I've just written here. I'll try to keep taking my own advice.


A Cuban In London September 23, 2008 at 4:32 AM  

Although it clearly is a painful post to write, there's a detail in your column that caught my attention straight away and restored my faith in the human race (I get jabs of that renewal more often than I realise). It was the fact that even if you had the magic wand, you would not reverse your grandmother's condition, you'd rather travel back in time and make certain changes in her earlier period in life so that she could have a more fulfilled existence. That's amazing and can only come from a very sensitive AND sensible soul. Why meddle with what is inevitable? Your grandmother, like you and me, will die one day. But to make her last days, or her earlier ones (should that magic wand make a cameo appearance in your life) is a much more gentle approach to life, in my humble opinion.

Thanks for the post.

Greetings from London.

karina September 23, 2008 at 5:36 AM  

This post master piece.
Thanks for sharing in such a great style, your images and words touched my heart.

willow September 23, 2008 at 5:53 AM  

Thanks for this beautiful, inspiring and heartfelt post. I'll be thinking about you and Little Helen today. Her childhood photo is lovely and haunting.

Tassili/Talonsrouges September 23, 2008 at 8:52 AM  

Aaah, thank you, Tangobaby, for that beautiful post. I am trying these days to find ways to repair the little me, and to take joy in the littlest pieces of bliss. Healing and zen.
Thank you so much for you eyes (figuratively and litteraly speaking) and your words.

smith kaich jones September 23, 2008 at 9:34 AM  

Julie - You ARE the magic wand. And that's all it takes. Be there. It will be enough.


karey m. September 23, 2008 at 9:42 AM  

this is a stunning little piece of writing...

i won't be able to get that magic wand image out of my head...

paris parfait September 23, 2008 at 10:28 AM  

Ah, what we could do with a magic wand! A very bittersweet post, dear TB, not about Little Helen, but the possibilities and opportunities we all need to embrace and explore. I've found that the older I get, the more I understand my own (late) grandmother. I wish she were here to talk about it all. Love to you and to Little Helen. xoxox

Elizabeth September 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM  

Such fine writing TB, with the photos carrying the theme, the feelings.
I am sure you bring a lot of joy to your grandmother and to your mother. We can't go back, but you are going forward with spirit, the best you can do, the best you can be.

Anonymous September 23, 2008 at 12:56 PM  

What a beautiful post tangobaby. I was very touched by this and the previous post about Little Helen. Her childhood photo is lovely :-)

It's very difficult to see our loved ones in pain, or experiencing sadness. We do indeed just want a magic wand to take it all away.

Sara Christine September 23, 2008 at 4:21 PM  

Lovely words and gorgeous photos. So happy to have stumbled upon another blogger from the Bay Area.

Wishing your grandmother well. xo

robin bird September 23, 2008 at 7:53 PM  

this post, like all your posts is complex and many layered. i felt saddened reading it. it reminded me forcefully of my mother. and yet this post, like all of your other posts is filled with a hopeful spirit. generous in your view of 'little helen, compassionate, yearning for her to experience the goodness in her world.
i loved this :
"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." ~ Joseph Addison"
like you, i will also try to take your advice even if it is too late for my mother and almost to o late for little helen.

Christina September 23, 2008 at 9:12 PM  

My heart breaks reading this post. I think of little Helen and most of all (I don't know why) but I think if her time would have been now, living as a young women in the current day and time. Oh how that quick thought has a way of changing things. : ) Insert wand here.

Makes me think of the life I am leading and if I am doing everything possible to make a difference in my life and in others.

This is a lovely post, friend.

Anonymous September 23, 2008 at 9:55 PM  

and maybe with that magic wand you've spread those inspirations to us all, who knows who you've touched. i know no matter what little helen will think of you to bring back the pink in her cheeks. she'll think of little curly girl and your mom and your sister.
in the shadows cast on other things, you've found contrast to the color in your life. and so solely by comparison, those wounds brought hope for a better life for you. thank you for sharing. i really needed this.

Anonymous September 24, 2008 at 8:02 AM  

Dearest TB. I'm so behind on my blog reading, I'm only now catching up.

This stunning post is deeply touching, not only because it expresses your love for Little Helen, but also exquisitely describes what may be many people's inner fears or disappointments, of opportunities lost, of regrets about decisions. But as so many comments point out, it is likewise filled with hope.

The search for contentment is universal, and is as transient as that leaf, when we are fortunate to find it. So: Carpe diem!

My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.

Sallycat September 25, 2008 at 6:30 AM  

'To leave our mark on this world and know that we had some tiny, positive effect?'

You have worked much 'magic' TB, much, much, much.


tangobaby September 25, 2008 at 5:00 PM  

Hi a cuban in london,

It made me sad to write the post, but it also made me resolved to keep moving forward for myself and how I look at life. Perhaps its very hard to see your emotional baggage from an outside perspective and deal with it rationally and that is why my grandmother's psyche developed the way it did. I don't know.

I guess growing and learning is what I mean to strive for, even if it's tough...

Thank you for listening.

Hi karina,

I'm glad the words and images meant so much to you. I'm glad you're here.

Hi willow,

I didn't feel too inspired until I went back and read this a few times. Thank you for thinking of my grandma. When I tell her that people she doesn't know send her happy wishes, it makes her feel better for a while.

Hi tassili/talonsrouges,

You're so young and have many many years ahead of you, so focusing on these aspects right now will only gain you much more richness and vibrance in your life later on. Even the bad experiences end up being good ones, if you can capture the lessons from them and move forward.


Hi debi,

Thank you...I still wish my being there effected some sort of lasting change, but that is not possible. I know you appreciate the journey, though.

Hi karey m,

I guess we are never too old to wish for a bit of magic, are we? I think that's a good thing, and I know you agree with me.

Hi paris parfait,

You always know how to extract the seed of what I was trying to say: "the possibilities and opportunities we all need to embrace and explore." So true. So many possibilities and paths are set before us. I think that's wonderful. I want as many of them as I can get.

What we could tell our grandmothers now if we could? Now that we know what we know?

Hi Elizabeth,

I think I do bring them something. My mom told me the other day that she is 20 years ahead in her thinking than her mother, and I am 20 years ahead of her. My mother is the one that listens and understands and makes her way forward, and for that, I am very happy because in the end, I know she will always feel loved.

Hi carol,

Thank you for your understanding. I know you know the dynamics of family and the past and how they influence the future for good or ill. Your writing on how you have grown and taught yourself to be who you are is very inspirational.

When I see Little Helen this weekend, I will tell her that you liked her photo.

Hi Sara Christine,

Welcome to my blog and for leaving your very kind comment. I appreciate your visit and yes, it's nice to find neighbors in the blogosphere, isn't it? ;-)

Hi robin bird,

That was my favorite quote, of all of them. It makes everything seem so clear, doesn't it? You and I shall be on that same path then, and we can help each other.

Hi christina,

I know you are a soft-hearted little girl inside and Little Helen would have loved to meet someone as sweet as you. I already know the life you are leading is full of awareness and thought and you brighten the path ahead for those who follow in your footsteps. You have very lucky children.

Hi sarah,

What you said here: "in the shadows cast on other things, you've found contrast to the color in your life. and so solely by comparison, those wounds brought hope for a better life for you" is so very true. A little tear in my eye when I read this, almost like she went through some personal pain so that other people could learn from her choices. It does help to have a guide to show you different options.

Hi johanna,

Not to worry...I am late in getting back in comments, too! You also always understand what I am getting at. You are very good at reading between the lines too.

Regrets, regrets. That word frightens me.

Hi sallycat,

I think we all do leave our mark. I'm so glad to know that you think that of me.


Red Shoes September 25, 2008 at 6:56 PM  

I've got nothing more eloquent to say than has been said by your other lovely commenters...I can only tell you you're wonderful, and Little Helen must be as well, and I'm sending you both love.

Brook February 24, 2009 at 4:09 PM  

Holy Maloly! I am definitely at the point where I am realizing it is up to me to be happy forever. My choice each and every day. How much of that comes from environment and how much from deep inside is the question. How much happiness can I pull out of myself without getting a refill? Ahhh, I just know I don't want to be a sad miserable little old lady (D's grandmother is stricken with serious alzheimers and a newly broken hip and has given me a picture of what I don't want to be). I am the decider in the infamous words of the chimp and need to remember that. Thanks.