The best advice my grandmother gave me

My mom sent me a photo of my great grandmother today. She’s 109 years old.

She lives in a nursing home in a somewhat rural area of South Korea.

The last time I saw her was in 2011. Before that, the last time I had seen her was when I was about 3 years old. During those 16 ish years that I hadn’t seen my great grandmother, I knew that she existed but didn’t have any memory of her from my younger years. I only knew I thought highly of her.

In 2011 when I saw her, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, she lives in a home because she has a form of Alzheimer’s.

When I saw her I was just speechless. A nurse rolled her out in a chair and I saw a small and hunched over human. She looked so fragile. When she came out, my aunt who was with me told her I was here. I didn’t expect her to remember me. All of a sudden she starts to weep saying “I’ve been waiting for you to visit me!! I’ve been thinking about you.” We seated her next to me and she started to speak to me in Korean, which I’m not fluent in. She said a lot of things about how she had a dream with me in it. How she has photos of her grandchildren in her room. How she’s so happy I’m here. Seeing her cry was heartbreaking. She said a handful of things but the only thing I really remember is when she grabbed my hand and asked me to make her a promise.

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photo from when I saw her in 2011

She asked me to marry well. To marry a good man. Be wise in who I marry. Some other things in Korean but I could tell she meant that it wasn’t about money or prestige, but rather character. She made me promise that whatever I do, just to make sure that I married someone exceptional. After she made that request she got quiet and it was as if her lucid moment passed and she was exhausted again.

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It’s funny, I heard that advice when I was in the beginning of my early 20’s. It was an age where a committed healthy relationship was so foreign to me. I was living in New York City at the time and the guys I had met were all temporary. I had come across hints of good men but one I could marry seemed like an impossibility to me.

Nevertheless, I told her I promise. I couldn’t help but cry as I told her. Half because I felt like I was lying to her and wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. Half because there were three generations of women from my family in that room. It all just felt unreal and all too real.

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I’ll never forget that day. The way she gripped my hand even though she was so tiny and fragile. The life she did have in her, was bright and strong because of the love she had for others in her presence. The way her hands were wrinkled and spotted but soft like a baby. The way her eyelids drooped and had become flaps of skin over time. I don’t know how she’s still alive today and what keeps her going but my mom tells me that she was a very sharp lady and that she’s not surprised that she’s still alive and kicking.

I bring this up because after my great-grandmother gave me that advice, I made a promise to myself to really be wise and careful with who I consider my partner. To love myself and work on myself so that I can attract the right kind of person. To clearly define what “a good man” means to me. After she planted that seed in my head, I believed that I would find it and that I would do what I promised her someday regardless of how difficult it seemed and how bleak the dating scene looked. That I would not only find a good man, but be a good woman and that we would be together and she would be proud and happy.

I remember going a panel at the NY times a year later for a panel. It was a panel of female writers/editors and I remember one of their pieces of advice being “Who you decide to marry will be one of the most important if not THE most important decisions of your life.” It really struck me because the panel was about writing and leadership of opinion and someone mentioned something about marriage.

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I now know that who you surround yourself with on a daily basis is extremely important and who/how you love is equally important as the kind of work you do.

It’s better to marry later and when you’re ready than to just marry because everyone else is. It’s important to be with a man of character, patience and kindness than just material wealth. It’s crucial to be with someone who makes you feel safe and at ease to be yourself. This partner and the person you will be with will affect everything you do in business and life. Love yourself first because you’ll have to live with yourself the rest of your life, but whoever you choose to be with will change your life.

Don’t let bad experiences and bad people stop you from being a good person and from believing in good people. And like my great grandmother said, be sure you commit/marry to what’s and who is just damn good.

Just something to think about today.

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