I’ve always loved the song “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, and with good reason. Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate enough to have those smiling eyes and laughter that the song is so famous for, from my 92 year old grandmother. I’ve often wondered the secret of her longevity. She’s always been a kid at heart, always looked on the sunny side of life, and hardly ever said a harsh word about anyone. It’s taken me a while, but I think she’s made it this far with one very important quality: compassion. This I believe, with every fibre of my being.
Growing up, she endured a difficult childhood and didn’t have the easiest married life either. She churned out eight children in short order and lived a “traditional” marriage of her generation where the husband was the king and the wife a humble servant. Over the years, her children have wounded her heart as only children can. Despite the inevitability of sleepless nights of worry and concern, she survived the usual teenage rebellion. But she always forgave them, accepting the good and the bad of her growing brood. With understanding and compassion for human frailty came acceptance of their imperfections.
It’s been said you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. I believe we weren’t meant to have that choice, that we are all brought into exactly the family of origin that was intended for us. Often, it’s not the ideal situation but it’s those family issues that we need to work on and heal together. It’s impossible to find anyone who’ll tell you they had the perfect childhood but I think we learn our greatest lessons in life from the most painful experiences. How else could we appreciate the truly joyous times in our lives without enduring the depths of despair as well?
Honing our compassionate side starts in our childhood with our family. They are our roots; they are what keeps us grounded. Our grandparents tie us to our past and our children bring us into our future. Who we decide to be in between is up to us. I’d like to take a page from my grandmother’s book and try to treat everyone with kindness and compassion, and hopefully that is the example I will set for my children. As it has worked beautifully for her for the better part of a century, how could I possibly argue with that track record? She has always been the model of grace, compassion, generosity and understanding. And, true to the tune, when my grandmother’s irish eyes are laughing, you *can* hear the angels sing.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.