Lessons from My Nana

Written by Ann Burns

May 27, 2021

When the Villains are Beautiful

Four Important Life Lessons from my Nana

My Nana loved to work diligently in her garden; she would weed and water for hours.  

I would watch her, wondering how she knew so much and why she didn’t mind plucking away at the nasty little weeds. How boring, I thought.

However, she would finish her work in good spirits. She’d share a whimsical story about the little bunnies and chipmunks who had impishly visited her. She didn’t complain. Gardening held meaning for her. As a result, beautiful flowers adorned her house like a palace in a fairy book.

My Nana was a classy lady. She dressed up; she always carried herself with grace. At Christmas,  Nana wore velvet, black pumps with little Santas hidden inside the heels. She held an even higher standard. And she believed in “authentic culture.”

I’ll never forget the night a college friend of mine met my Nana. My friend shared a story about a purchase she made, “It was nice and cheap.” She said innocently. 

My Nana smiled, “Inexpensive. You can have a cheap date, but things are inexpensive.” In other words, cheap is a derogatory term.

She was full of tips.

As a granddaughter, I initially found them embarrassing. Isn’t it just being nitpicky? We all knew what my friend meant. Cheap can be positive! 

Example: “I love finding cheap clothes to buy!” 

Don’t words evolve?

But despite my internal rebuttals, I, like my friend, replaced “cheap” with “inexpensive.” I no longer enjoy finding cheap clothes, but I do relish an inexpensive purchase. 

My Nana was loved, admired, and respected. She never had to beg for those things; her presence elicited them. 

My Nana was elegant; she was elegant up until the day she died. She greeted death with poise and grace. Even though her pain was evident, Nana was serene. When she was too weak to open her eyes and words were no longer possible, a smile still managed to play on her lips. That’s the kind of woman she was. 

Her funeral brimmed with more people than I could count. Her life touched many.  

She believed in a dying world.  Yet, as long as she lived, she continued to water her patch of the garden and not despair. Yes, she was an elegant lady all the way.

When I think of my Nana, I recall someone who met the world’s harshness armed in heels and with a sharp wit. She took her grandchildren to the symphony, corrected their grammar, made sure they knew their history, and let them eat ice cream in the morning.  

My Nana believed that to live well was to live beautifully. 

When I think of my Nana, I remember the things she taught me:

Lesson 1: Embrace the Mundane  

Taking joy in the mundane enables us to see beauty in the everyday: this instills peace and wonder.

In my own life, I used to see my apartment as a realm of cramped clutter. My husband and I had accrued too much stuff in our single lives, and cramming it all together was just that: smushed. I started to feel annoyed about trying to find a home for all our stuff.  

“Nothing fits!!”  

Ironically, the result of thinking “this place is cramped” was “this place is cramped.”  

But what was it about our abode that did not I like? What if I viewed it as our palace? I closed my eyes tight and played around with the idea. Upon opening my eyes, I looked around at my chateau. “This place is worthy of beauty and love.” I thought. 

 That mental shift released a cascade of simple joys. I pulled out my apron and started making a few changes; I managed to tackle more chores than ever before, and I still had time for an afternoon tea. Like my Nana in her garden, I had learned to combine diligence with love. I saw meaning in my work, and soon, I was looking at a palace meant for a fairy book. 

Be intentional with your tasks. Those duties matter because you and the ones you love matter. 

Lesson 2: Your Words Matter

I don’t know how many times Nana corrected my grammar, but it was a lot! She discouraged slang and lazy dribble. “What does that mean?” She’d challenge a random stranger who spoke but failed to communicate. (Again, I was mortified!)

Nevertheless, I began to realize that our words hold weight, and that’s so good! With speech, we have a responsibility to convey truth and glorify God. We should be precise. We should communicate. And if we don’t understand something, be honest! It’s okay! You may find out that you are not alone. 

Utilizing grammar cultivates interior discipline. With it, we are challenged, tempered, and called to a higher standard. Without it, we are lazy in our thoughts, in our words, and often that trickles into even our actions!   

Our thoughts become our words and then our actions. If we practice internal discipline, we not only find that we become better communicators, but we also choose to live with clarity and precision. 

Choose to convey goodness. Speech is a tool to communicate truth, not just emotional rants and diatribes!  We are human beings with dignity, and our language should reveal that. 

God gave you a voice. Your words matter. 

Lesson 3: Cultivate Your Mind 

When I moved away, I received a monthly letter from my Nana. She would include a newspaper clipping regarding literature, art, music, or history. She believed I’d find value in the article. 

Nana believed in learning.  

She’d start a discussion on Elon Musk and AI over martinis. She adored an evening at the symphony, hosted book clubs, and listened to classical music.  

“I’m going to New York for some culture.” She’d quip before she left for a concert followed by dinner with her play critic friends. 

Nana taught me to be a student. She encouraged me to deepen my quality of life by pursuing meaningful hobbies, reading continuously, and purifying my mind with heavenly music. 

Fill your mind with wonder; you’ll be amazed at the possibilities it unlocks. 

Lesson 4: Live Formally 

Confident, composed, and compassionate, Nana brought an aura of formality and mystery to life. 

She appreciated the little things, like being dressed for dinner or cleaning behind the ears. She enjoyed simple luxuries: a crisp Chardonnay in the early evening or the silkiness of a choice lotion.  

She would bring her granddaughters perfume samples so we, too, could join in the fun of the sweet feminine joys. 

While the world has grown excruciatingly casual, my Nana believed that life is worth celebrating. Make it a formal affair. We can choose a life of meaning and grace. Instead of dressing up to show off, why not make elegance every day? If we believe that life is sacred, why don’t we live like it?

Your life is worthy of formality. 

In Conclusion:

Living well has nothing to do with money or what you possess! Instead, it has everything to do with value and beauty. We are not only capable of these two elements, but as daughters of a King, we are worthy of them.  Live intentionally; you’re alive for a reason. 

As Catholics, we believe that we are a body-soul composite; the internal is made manifest through the external. God stamped dignity onto our souls, and we don’t have to be ashamed or feel awkward about bringing that light into the world. We don’t have to feel out of place cultivating poise and formality in life; after all, life is a gift, and it is so worth living. 

That is beautiful!

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