People who travel a lot see the same things; yet, they react differently to the same encounters. More often than not, the way we react reflects who we are. Among our most prized possessions are our own simple things that stay in our mind and heart forever.
As soon as I arrived in Caux, Switzerland, Elizabeth caught my attention as she reminded me of my grandma; not only with her beautiful features and majestic white hair, but particularly with her resilience and obvious love of being around people. At 82 years young, she enjoys life to the fullest and insists on being relevant and of service to others around her. Being blessed with many talents, she agreed to speak with me and show me around her work area during the Learning to Live in a Multicultural World Conference. As we walked around the old palace, we enjoyed her exquisite flower arrangement creations in so many corners and adorning so many pieces of furniture. It is these creations that Elizabeth is mostly known for at Caux. A trade she teaches to her talented and appreciative apprentices.
She told me how she enjoys teaching people how to produce beautiful paintings by just using a hot iron: “You apply wax to the hot iron and then apply it on a piece of cardboard,” she explained. She says people are usually amazed at how simple the process is and at what they just produced and that makes her smile in joy.
It’s that same generous smile my grandma had on her face every time she told our housekeeper, Bolbol, to join our family for a meal. As a child I had always wondered why my grandma did that. It was much later that I realized the symbolism of her gesture and the love and appreciation in her beautiful smile. I’m grateful for this life lesson. Bolbol was very nice and everyone liked her. I was quite astonished at the request as a kid and it never occurred to me to ask my grandma why she insisted on inviting her to eat with us. With the passing of time, I have seen a lot. I matured and realized that my grandma really did the right thing and created love in her own way.
Proud of her 82 years of life, Elizabeth taught me several lessons too. “There is magic when you like someone and when you trust someone.” she says. She was once at Morrison's buying flowers when she realized she forgot her purse at home. Surprisingly enough, the female cashier offered to lend her 5£ although they didn't know each other. To be trusted like that made her happy!
When Elizabeth talks about her late husband Brian Loy, it is quite the love story. She remembers how he drove his motorbike and how well he played the piano. When they got married, they couldn't afford to buy a piano, so she bought him a guitar as a birthday gift instead. The memory becomes reality for a brief moment through Elizabeth’s eyes. “It doesn't matter what you buy for your loved ones. What really matters is to show love all the way through the tough journey of life where we always need love and compassion.” Words to be cherished and lived by forever.
One day Elizabeth wanted to buy a Magnolia Stella. She liked it a lot but found it to be very expensive. She was amazed when Brian insisted on buying it for her because, “When you love someone, money doesn’t count,” he said. The Magnolia was the last gift he gave her. She remembers it as well as the first gift. Bath salt in a fancy box? Not really. She says she was a bit taken back by the surprise but found a necklace underneath. When Elizabeth told me the story, her face lit up like a young woman who was talking about her boyfriend. It is always a great pleasure when the memory of others brings joy to our life. Story after story showed me the mystery of life only resolved through love and compassion. Once we show love and compassion, surely we get them back.
We sometimes regret things, we feel happy about others. We still have what really makes a difference in our life. We must choose whether to create love and compassion around it or to leave anger, guilt or agony as our trail.
Think about what really makes you happy, and you may find many answers in both my grandma and Elizabeth.