Life’s lessons

I haven’t gotten off to the best of starts this semester. I’ve missed a few classes. I’ve been late to a few others, and I am way behind in my work. This past weekend, I

I haven’t gotten off to the best of starts this semester.

I’ve missed a few classes.

I’ve been late to a few others, and I am way behind in my work.

This past weekend, I didn’t even open a book or look at my notes.

But I learned a heck of a lot about life, a department where Temple University lacks a curriculum.

It’s easy for college students to lose perspective.

We’re swamped with work and concerned about finishing at the front of the rat race.

But a visit to my grandmother’s last weekend made me realize how screwed up my priorities are.

Finishing first isn’t the main thing. Enjoying life — every precious moment of it — is.

My grandmother is 85.

She lives alone, in the same Long Island house where my mother was born.

I visit her every three months or so, for a day or two at a time.

I used to feel obligated to visit, and I suppose I am, but this time I felt something more than obligation.

This time I wanted to be there.

I wanted to taste her cooking – turkey and potatoes, just like always.

I didn’t mind the musty smell of her loft.

I wasn’t upset that the newspaper was from the day before.

Those things used to annoy the hell out of me.

But that weekend I learned that it’s not about me – it’s about my grandmother.

It was my first time seeing my grandmother (I call her mom-mom) since her surgery.

A few months ago, the doctors found a lump in her breast.

They performed all the appropriate tests and determined that it was merely a benign cyst.

But mom-mom doesn’t put much stock into what doctors say.

So, when the doctor dismissed this latest lump (she was diagnosed with breast cancer before, on two previous occasions), she wanted it removed.

The doctors took out a tumor the size of a tennis ball, and sure enough, it was malignant.

So far, the cancer has not spread, but when I left her house, I wondered if I would see her again.

She still looks great.

She’s coherent.

She’s as ornery as ever.

But she’s alone, and she’s had some close calls.

I don’t think she’s especially happy with her life.

Her face shows more than age.

It also shows regret over how she has lived her life, and it is painful for me to see that it is too late for her to do anything about it.

She never learned how to drive.

She never traveled much.

She didn’t have many close friends.

She alienated my mother and my uncle because they didn’t fit into her ideal of children.

There are a thousand cliches and they are all true.

You do only live once and you should seize the day.

Most people think that 85 years is an eternity, that they can do anything and everything within that time.

Mom-mom would argue that 85 years isn’t much time at all.

Time is what you make of it, and things won’t happen unless you make them happen.

As college students, it’s easy to immerse ourselves in class work.

But we must remember to balance our learning and our life.

In 85 years, our biology homework or Chaucer essays won’t matter much if we
don’t have anyone to share it with.

But don’t take my word for it.

Surly there’s a loved one who can teach you all this and more, if you care to learn.

Jesse Chadderdon can be reached at

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