This is Oma. Oma means “grandmother,” and she’s my grandmother, but even if you don’t know her, she’ll say, “Hi. I’m Oma.” She turned 88 today. When I look at her I think, wow. Nivea really doesn’t work on wrinkles. She’s been buttering her skin with it for decades, and her face is still a mosaic of laugh lines; those crinkles, as she calls them, each an inlet to her heart.
She taught me how to love. She continues to teach me in a million ways. Before she hangs up the phone, she has to repeat a chorus of, “goodbye, I love you, thank you” at least three times. If you have so much as a tickle in your throat, she will shower you with Ricola. If you drop her off at her apartment, she’ll wave when she gets out of the car, when she gets to the front doors, when she gets inside the front doors, when she enters the lobby, when she gets to the elevator, and if you really, really wait, she’ll wave to you as the elevator doors close in front of her. Even on the coldest days, when you leave from a visit and walk to your car, she’ll be on the balcony, with a “Yewwwww-whoooooo” waving a kerchief like she’s wishing you off to sea. As long as you’re in her sight, she’s there expressing how much she loves you.
Even when she can’t see me, she thinking, loving, and much of the time worrying, about me. Not just when I adventure, actually it’s almost like she worries less then. She worries when I drive, when I go to yoga, when I get groceries. She shakes her pointer finger at me, “Watch your surroundings.” And when she worries, I remind her of the stories she’s told me. Like the time she ventured across borders through a forest at midnight without a passport. Or when she crossed the Atlantic on a whim because a boy she saw sometimes sent her a letter. Or when they, together, ventured into Algonquin in the middle of winter with a sled, a hammer and some wood. She gets it; the need to follow the tickle in your ear that whispers, “move.” But still she worries.
Some might find a love like hers suffocating. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to breathe.
“You call your grandmother everyday?” How could I not? I love her in a she hurts, I hurt, she smiles, I smile, kind of way. I guess I worry a lot about her too. So of course, I call her. I try to show how much I love her in return by saying “goodbye, I love you, no, thank you” back, and waving until she gets into the elevator and by returning her “yewwwwww-whooosssss”. She knows I love her, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convey the depth, not in a wave, not in a hug, not in a kiss, not in a phone call. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.
Sometimes I step back and try to count the many ways she shows her love, as if quantifying it would make it easier to understand. I try to comprehend how deeply I care for her, as if I could qualify that affection by recounting memories that endear her to me. But I can only marvel. Some things are just not of this world.
We have a finite number of days on this planet. So go tell someone you love them and try to tell them why.
Happy 88th birthday to the woman who taught us how to love. To everyone’s Oma. For you, I am so lucky.