jamaica

A Note for My Grandmother on her 90th Birthday by Jahan Sharif

My grandmother (with the “90 and Fabulous” sash) and some of the extended family in Jamaica! Two of her siblings are to her left, she’s the oldest.

My grandmother (with the “90 and Fabulous” sash) and some of the extended family in Jamaica! Two of her siblings are to her left, she’s the oldest.

I have been blessed with wonderful teachers.

The first is my grandmother, whose lessons are so ingrained that I do not know where they end and where I begin. Today she turns 90, and this post is for her.

Five-and-a-half years ago, her first born, my Aunt Jennifer (another wonderful teacher, and the person who first taught me how to write), proposed a book of short stories composed by people close to my grandmother. She asked me to write the introduction, which I’m sharing with you today.

Time is relative, and the distance between 85 and 90 years old is huge. While much about my grandmother’s life has changed, I was happy to read my words this week and find that they are as true today as they were when I first wrote them in March 2014. My family and I are lucky to have been raised by such a rare person, and I hope your life will be similarly enriched through this brief exposure to her.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica
June 2019


Introduction -- March 2014

Last Christmas, my Aunt Jennifer announced her intention to compile a catalog of stories about my grandmother-- her mother. As we sat in the living room, she passed around a sheet of paper with a prompt and a few broad questions. She asked us to return it to her by April.

Just before this, she organized a bunch of her grandmother's recipes into a book. In the introduction, she told anecdotes about the time she and her siblings spent with Aunt Drus-- tales of adventure and mischief that were focused on others, but from which a sort of soft portrait of the old woman emerged.

My grandmother and me

My grandmother and me

Like that one, this book stems from a deep desire to know ourselves. What is it about my history that makes me, me? What can people tell me about somebody else that will shed light on parts of my own character?

I am not immune to these questions; in fact, I am on a certain pursuit of my own to answer them.

For a while I've related most closely with my grandmother--after all, we are quite similar. We associate easily with others. We have a fierce appreciation for the truth, and fearlessness when it comes to telling it. We're usually the first to laugh when things go wrong. And we're intensely loyal and full of love, which also means that we're the first to tell someone off when we see them doing wrong.

In the end, what I believe is best about me I find originated with her.

As I write this, my grandmother is approaching eighty-five years old. I understand on an intellectual level that death could come at any moment-- that one day, she will go to bed and not get up again. It is beyond my capacity as a human (certainly my capacity as a writer) to anticipate or express the grief I will feel when she dies; for even now the mere thought of her absence pains me with sudden constrictions of the heart.

But, alas, she is not dead. And I am grateful that she will be able to read this and understand how profoundly she has impacted the lives of those whose paths have been fortunate enough to intersect with hers.

Grandparents and grandchildren.

Grandparents and grandchildren.

Coincidentally, at the same time this book was proposed, I sat down and recorded one of our conversations. We spoke about her story and she gave general life advice. At the end I asked her if there was anything left that she wanted to say. She told me that she hoped and prayed "that for the rest of your life you will be somebody that everybody--the world-- can be proud of."

Too often we let important things go unsaid. We wait until it's too late to tell people we love them, or that we care for them. If there is one lesson I have learned from her it is to not wait; to be genuine and effusive with my love, praise, and gratitude-- and to do it right now.

However, despite our best intentions, we sometimes fail to recognize where a compliment or an acknowledgement is due.

And so, I will close with this: Above all else, of this small woman from that small island, with big ambitions and a big heart, I am most certainly very grateful, and very proud.

Originally written March 2014