Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.
I dreamt recently that an old woman, my grandmother but not my grandmother, was going through a box of jewellery and delicately handing things to me. She was nearing death, and she was passing on pieces of knowledge, too—she told me every pearl of wisdom she’d ever learned. We walked together up a hill of cherry blossoms. I woke up crying.
This dream occurred around the time my father announced that he was writing a will and discussing the ramifications of it, and as I watched a friend struggle with losing his mother and grandfather within a year of each other. It had started to dawn on me, slowly and subconsciously, that the older people in my life would not always be there as a subtle guiding force.
We talk a lot about honouring and indulging the child within, and with good reason. The inner child is the source of playfulness, of creativity, of dreams, of spirit, of wonder, of curiosity. It’s by looking to the child that we remember our true passions and talents and what it is we wanted from life before it became confused and conditioned by the external forces of the world. The inner child is closer to the source—the source of the universe, and the source of us; a compass stationed at our centre that reminds us why we are here, and how to move through the world without taking it all so seriously.
But what I am beginning to see is that sitting beside this inner child is a presence just as important: the inner parent, or grandparent. And that sooner or later all of us must conjure this being—the one whose essence is composed of wisdom and guidance and nurturing—like conjuring a spirit. Sooner or later we must call upon the Yoda-like sage waiting patiently in our hearts. It is the inner grandparent who tells us not to be so hard on ourselves; who warns us of that toxic person in our life; who sits us down with a cup of tea and an ear primed to listen. It is the inner grandparent who holds the hand of the child.
For some people this process—the one of welcoming in this presence—must begin earlier than others. Some of us are born needing to parent ourselves, or we lose our elders sooner than the norm. And all of us, deep down, are still the children we once were: scared and confused and somewhat neglected and unable to truly make sense of the world because it all started unfolding before we had the capacity to articulate or resolve it. Whether the guardians in our lives gave us everything or some of what we needed or nothing at all, the truth is that if we live long enough we must wind up becoming our own guardians.
We can rail against this truth for a while. We can rail against it forever, if we want to, thrashing about in drama and self-destructiveness. But if we are to carry on with our lives, there comes a time when we have to stop letting this part of us run the show, and instead invite in the part that knows better. As Cheryl Strayed writes, “We can’t really grow up until we find a way to give what we need to ourselves.”
I think this is what it means to grow into an adult and a whole, integrated person. It’s a process of honouring the energy of the child while recognising the spirit of the grandparent, holding space for both, and bringing these two parts of ourselves into dialogue and relationship with one another. This is the true meaning of self-care. This is how we start to heal.
When I told my boyfriend about my grandmother dream, and that I couldn’t remember any of the wisdom the old woman had shared, he said, “Maybe it was stuff you already knew.” I realised this was true. The grandmother was me. She was my inner guide. And that’s kind of the key to it all: we grow up looking outwards for wisdom and guidance, and we absorb as much as we can. Then, eventually, we must become this source of wisdom and guidance. And, if we are lucky, we grow into older people and we get to share this wisdom beyond ourselves.