My lola (grandmother) Nene always told me this when I was a teenager:
“Sammy, when I die and you’re speaking at my funeral, you have to say this in your eulogy: ‘When my lola was still alive, she always told me, Sammy I can never live with you'”
Whether this was said affectionately or not remains a mystery to me.
Last August, my family went on a vacation in Osaka, Japan. I was room mates with my lola, and this experience brought me back to memories from years ago.
I used to live in my grandparent’s house until I was about seven years old. After my parents split up, it became part of my siblings’ arrangements that we slept over at their house (where my dad lived) on weekends and summer breaks.
We would all sleep in our grandparents’ room with my other cousins. This arrangement carried on until I graduated from college. During that time, I’ve had my fair share of snarky comments from my lola, especially when it came to our “shared” bathroom. And our recent room arrangement made me relive all those memories from my teenage years.
Our morning routine in Japan went something like this:
I’d wake up earlier than her to make her coffee in the room. The moment she’d get up, she would ask me questions about the coffee maker. Mind you; same questions, different day. So I would abandon my time at the sink to call housekeeping.
When the coffee maker finally worked, I would go back to my routine, only to realize that she now held the bathroom sink hostage with all her make up spread about. She’d pause from applying her eyeliner, and flash me a grin. Oh, those years have come back to haunt me.
I found myself having to rearrange my morning routine daily: because when I’m in the middle of changing, she would ask me to help her with her make up; or when I’m about to take a shower, and she’d say that she needed to use the toilet.
Ironically, she describer herself as a stickler for efficiency. Several times I would find her silently throwing daggers at me with her eyes whenever I’d do something that would cause her some measure of inconvenience due to my negligence or ignorance. And admittedly, I’d throw the same daggers at her whenever I felt like she didn’t appreciate my service to her.
Towards the end of the trip, I could feel my patience growing fainter and fainter by the second. Her requests started growing more tiresome to do. Her comments—which were lost somewhere in the spectrum of sarcasm and affection—grew a lot more irritating. And I even secretly cried at one point because of her constant nagging.
I found myself complaining deep inside. “Did loving someone have to be this inconvenient and inefficient?”
And then I saw my lola. I noticed how she’s grown lot more slower, forgetful, and dependent on the people around her (though she will never admit this last part).
That’s the thing about spending time with the elderly. You realize that they need you more than you need them. That they hate admitting this part about themselves. And that they’ll take any service being offered to them–sometimes because they like the person giving it, and other times because they have no other choice.
But looking back, it was in those times when I felt the most hassled, tired, or irritated with her that I learned something about love that I didn’t notice before:
The point of love was never to make it any easier, convenient, or more efficient for the person giving it. That these three things experienced in love are meant to be experienced by the receiver, and not the giver. That the riddle of love is that it must coexist with sacrifice.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It is considerate of how the other person would feel, regardless of how inconvenient it would be to you. Like entertaining, with a genuine smile, someone else’s same questions from the day before.
Love does not envy or boast. It rejoices and celebrates with the other. It makes sure that the other person isn’t put on the spot or put down. Like carrying another person’s shopping cart for hours, and not mind that she, unlike you, can shop for all of these clothes.
It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. Love is mindful of the preferences of the other person. Like giving up your own morning routine in favor of another’s.
It is not irritable or resentful. Love never tires, even when it’s painful. Like in happily and flexibly adjusting the itinerary because of someone else’s preferences.
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Like in choosing to still serve another person, even when they nitpick about the quality of your service.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It doesn’t mean that you are naive or ignorant of the sacrifice it takes in loving someone else, but, with eyes wide open, embraces the reality of it. And when you’re tired, inconvenienced, and at the end of your rope, that’s when you can ask for the grace to keep loving some more.
Tomorrow my lola Nene will be turning 80. With that will come a whole new level of repeated questions, body ailments, and countless requests. But I believe that in time, it will get better. Not because she’ll be easier on me, but because I could grow easier on her. Not because she’s changed, but because I could change.
Here’s another riddle. To love and not sacrifice is not love at all. Yet, in a very funny way, it is only through sacrifice that we get to experience what genuine love is in the first place. And this opens new roads and highways where we get to discover how much more we can love on people, beyond what we think we’re capable of. And this is where you’ll find both the joy and freedom to love.
Happy almost 80th birthday, lola.