When I was a little girl, my grandmother was the most important person in my life. She was a wonderful and courageous woman who came from Eastern Europe with her husband and her younger brother, Joe. Though she was blind, she taught me to see the world very clearly. Every time I saw her she would say something that I thought was important—I wasn’t sure how important at the time. Sometimes she said the following words in Yiddish: “Azar Zeiseh maideleh, di, mazel, mazel, dos, abi gezunt.” When I asked my parents to translate, something was lost. The literal version was, “Sweet girl, luck, luck, as long as there is health.” Even though the words themselves did not make complete sense to me, I understood the gist of what she was saying. She was extolling my virtues as a young lady and hoped that my life would be filled with joy, good luck, and, above all, good health. It seems that good luck and good health were priorities for my grandmother, and for Jewish people in general. Throughout my childhood I kept a diary of her broken sentences and advice to me. I still cherish that diary, even though the pages are wrinkled and yellow with age.
When I worked as a social worker in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in New Jersey, I counseled many patients who were in detox and unable to easily grasp the usual psychobabble that was spewed by the counselors. In order to make the concepts simple and understandable, I began to use phrases from my diary that my grandmother had passed down to me. The patients responded in a positive manner and began to repeat my grandmother’s words to each other.
My Bubbie, Celia
My grandmother was a very positive individual who believed that there would be a tomorrow, a tomorrow in which change could take place. She did not dwell on the past and always encouraged me to let go of unproductive thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes I would complain, over and over, about an argument that I had with a friend at school. While she helped me to process my anger, she also encouraged me to look forward instead of backward. She often said, “Shelenkeh, shelenkeh, genug is genug, morgn afdernakht.” (“Enough, enough. Tomorrow before midnight it will be a thing of the past.”)
My patients tend to focus on things in their pasts that cannot be changed. And so I began teaching the concept of letting go of the past through my grandmother’s words: “Genug is genug, morgn afdernakht.” My patients loved hearing the guttural sounds of the Yiddish words. They always converted the Yiddish into English words, phrases, or names that they could easily recall. For this particular phrase, the patients substituted the words, Gene Morgan.
One day I overheard two patients talking to each other. One of the patients had been stuck in the past. Her cohort was trying to help her to look ahead instead of backward. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised when I overheard the following words: “You know what Sheila’s grandmother would say to you—Gene Morgan.”
I was so thrilled; my grandmother’s words lived on! The patients loved how easy it was to understand an important concept that they had learned in Yiddish. They suggested that I write a book of my grandmother’s sayings, because they thought it would be helpful to all people, not just to those in rehab. Ergo, my book.
Looking forward instead of backward was not the only wisdom that my grandmother passed on to me. When I was about eight years old I learned to ride a bicycle. I was so excited. I was required to abide by my mother’s rule: ride only on the sidewalk. My house was at the bottom of a hill, and I enjoyed riding up and down the hill. The more secure I felt on the bicycle, the faster I pedaled. Once, when I was passing a house surrounded by a brick wall, I was unable to slow down enough. I scraped my leg along the entire brick wall and then ran home screaming and bleeding.
When my mother heard me crying she came to the door. Even though she saw that I was hysterical, she merely told me to go into the bathroom, wash my leg off, and put a Band-Aid on it. My grandmother heard me crying and came into the bathroom. Even though she could not see the bleeding, she lightly touched my knee and felt the blood. She looked straight into my eyes and gave me a hug. She did not say anything, but it was as though she could look into my soul with her eyes. How could she do that and be blind? I didn’t know. All I knew was that once my grandmother looked into my eyes with such love, I felt calm, safe, and secure.
She lovingly washed my leg and bandaged it and said, “Biz chasseneh, abi gezunt.” (“Until the wedding, as long as there is health.”) She was essentially telling me that it would heal well; by the time that I got married, the incident would be a thing of the past. Since that day, whenever I talk to people I make sure that I look deep into their eyes so that they feel important and safe.
Even today, I think of my grandmother when I am fearful and need to feel the safety and security of her warm hugs. I have undergone many surgeries in my lifetime. The night before a surgery was always traumatic, cold, frightening, and lonely. I always wanted my grandmother to be with me during those stressful times, but she had already passed away. To compensate, I decided to look over my right shoulder and see her in my mind’s eye. Her gaze always made me feel so safe. And now, even today, when I want to access my grandmother, I still look over my right shoulder and feel her presence in my life. My grandmother nurtured me, and as a result she taught me how to nurture others and make them feel good about themselves.
While all of the sayings presented in this book might not be exactly literal, the concepts that my grandmother passed down to me have helped me during the good and bad times in my life, and I hope they will help you. My goal in writing this book is to help others learn to love the life they live. Having a loving advocate in one’s life who provides lots of hugs, loving gazes, and pats on the back is invaluable for enhancing self-esteem. Unfortunately, we cannot buy, rent, or borrow self-esteem from others. It must come from within. And so I encourage anyone who is reading this book to say to him- or herself on a daily basis, “I am a wonderful person, and I love myself.”
My grandmother will be your guiding angel until you learn to truly love yourself.