I guess I should talk a little more about my trip - aside from the hiking, drinking and eating far too much red meat and simple carbs, we also got to see my mom's side of the family. My mom was born and raised in Montana, living the first few years of her life in Red Lodge before moving to Billings. My grandmother and my uncle Bill still live there, along with my great uncle Will and two of my mom's cousins, Tom and Nancy. Tom and his wife Pam have two kids (Caroline and Alison), and Nancy and her husband Theirry have three (Max, Sophie and Jesse).
I really like seeing this part of the family - since our family is pretty small (my parents have one brother each, and my sister and I have only one first cousin), it's fun to see all the cousins and have big dinners and brunches together.... but, as bad as I feel saying this, I really dread seeing my grandmother.
When I say "I'm going to visit my grandma in Montana," most people picture a warm, smiling woman who bakes pies and welcomes her relatives with open arms... not so much my grandmother. Growing up, she was always pretty mean to me and my sister, and even my mom. My most prevelant memory of her growing up involves repeatedly calling me a spoiled brat in the middle of a restaurant and then turning to the table next to us to share her opinion of me and ask if they agreed with her. I (and obviously mom) was totally mortified, and to the best of my knowledge I had done nothing to provoke this. She's also completely racist (when I was 11 she told me to never marry a black man... I think my reaction was something like "Grandma, I'm 11"), and manages to find the cloud in every silver lining.
My sister, my dad and my mom flew out to MT about 4 days ahead of me, and Grandma's first words to my sister when she got off the plane were "I'm so glad fashions have changed these days - they're much more modest, no more belly buttons showing and all that cleavage hanging out. Julianna, what are you gonna do with all your old clothes now? Throw them out?" (Just for reference my sister had never, to my knowledge, dressed that way at ALL... but G-ma thinks that everyone in our generation dresses provocatively and runs around being whorish at crazy parties, even if our actual behavior indicates otherwise. She once made reference to my apparent cleavage-baring ways when I was, at the time, wearing a turtleneck).
Point being - my grandmother is not an easy person to love. She was mean to me, to my sister, and she was never anything resembling loving and nurturing towards my mom. She's been bitter for years, and I know she had a difficult time growing up and a bad marriage but it's difficult to justify turning that bitternes out towards everyone in your life.
I often think about her in comparison to my Grandma Stahl - my dad's mom, who passed away 4 years ago from ovarian cancer. After losing her first husband (my grandfather) to suicide and surviving a second husband who was an abusive alcoholic, she remained the strongest, most loving and graceful person I have ever known. Surely she was dealing with a lot of pain, but she always treated everyone around her with love and compassion. Her kindness extended outside of her family and friends, too - even into her 80's, she continued volunteering at the local hospital until she was physically unable to work any longer.
In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Albus Dumbledore wisely states "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." It's easy for my Montana Grandma to blame her past and her difficult life for her bitterness and behavior towards others - but what excuse does she have when held up against someone like my grandma Stahl, or my friend Lindsey who somehow made it through college as the chipperest, friendliest person on campus while dealing with a zillion different medications for her epillepsy and having 10 siezures a day? These people chose to make the most of their lives, despite their circumstances - because ultimately, we cannot control our circumstances, but we can control our choice to be happy.
So, sometimes, when I think about my Montana Grandma and the way she approaches life, I get angry. Why couldn't she be more loving towards my mom, or towards me and my sister? She knows she is rude and bitter - why doesn't she try to change? I'm afraid of visiting her, mostly because I fear the anger and anxiety that she brings out in me.
The other day at the end of my vinyasa yoga class, my teacher Marta said "now that you have practiced yoga, you are physiologically different than when you walked in here. Different people can make different choices." I thought about my grandmother again, and realized that I can't change her - but I can change myself. I can choose to treat her with kindness and love, and be gracious to her no matter what she says. I can choose to be the person that does not become anxious and afraid, and then she will lose her power to make me uncomfortable.
What is that person or situation in your life that makes you think or act with fear and anger? Are you frustrated because you want them to change, or do you try to accept the way things are and turn inward to change yourself? How do you cope? I'm still learning, but I am getting there.