Once upon a pretty time, there lived a beautiful soul named Rosa Fiorino Rabbitt, who was born before the digital age, and she taught me the importance of presence.
Over the summer of 2013, I witnessed the decline of my beautiful 90-year-old grandmother when old age and dementia claimed her body and mind. I remember the weeks and months I spent the year before she died, focused on putting a website together and signing up for perpetual how-to online courses, all while trying to keep up with the latest daily online trends from my army of entrepreneur friends. I always felt behind on everything and maybe even a tad uninterested in all of it.
I forget to remember that if I died the next day, no one would rush into my home with an urgency to turn my computer on and hit the publish button. The love and matter and meaning and memory lingering in their hearts for me wouldn’t be of any unfinished course I’d been taking or what homework wasn’t handed in yet.
Instead, they might linger over my bite marks in a cookie left on a counter or my sneakers by the treadmill where I last left them, thinking there would be another run. Or perhaps smile at a sofa cushion where the imprint of my body was still visible or wonder the meaning behind my belongings and why I saved things. They would pause at my son’s childhood drawings that I proudly taped to the walls and doors of my home or find my food in the fridge and wonder what recipes I had in mind when I bought it. And they would lie on my bed with strands of hair still on my pillow and wonder what I dreamt about the night before my last day came. Or maybe be curious about who the last person was to hear me say, “I love you.”
For 46 years, my grandmother was my best friend. She was who I most admire. She gave me my innocence and gratitude and lived her life so beautifully simple so that when I over-busied and over-complicated my own, I always knew I had an old-fashioned, heart-center to come home. She held me to my highest and believed in me before I knew how to. She honored my heart and introduced me to God, and told strangers everywhere that I was hers. “My Granddaughter is a good girl,” she’d boast to dinner guests and supermarket cashiers.
More times than I will ever be able to remember, my sweet Grandma Ro-Ro told me to get off the computer. “What are you doing on that thing?” and “When was the last time you went outside for a walk?” and “When will you ever be done?” and “But you never stop!”
One of my biggest regrets will always be that I kept thinking each new day was ordinary.
That there would always be one more day, another Tomorrow left, to put the computer away and talk old Hollywood movie stars, and have another cup of tea, and spend more time with her. Another lazy afternoon to sit side-by-side and compare the lines in our matching hands or hear the story of how she met my Grandpa on a blind date and married him only three weeks later. Or make her ridiculously happy with technical wonder and sentimental delight by showing her hours of YouTube videos of old greats like Frank Sinatra and Shirley Temple and Lauren Bacall, or look up the now-grown children of her 1940’s Hollywood favorites.
One late night during what would become her last summer, as I was leaving her hospital bed, I asked her what she wanted me to bring to her in the morning.
Staring and confused, this frail, barely five-foot-tall Italian lady who came to America at the age of 12 and boasted for her remaining 78 years that she learned English after only three weeks, replied, “Bring? Bring what? What are you gonna bring me? I don’t need anything.”
“No, Grandma, I mean, tell me of something I can bring you to make you happy?”
Looking amused, Grandma smiled and shook her head. “Just bring yourself, Ro. That’s all I need to make me happy. Just bring yourself.”
Our presence in this lifetime is about so much more than the irretrievable time that we give to our computers, jobs, projects, and carrots-on-sticks. And yet we keep at it for hours upon days upon years. We run on project treadmills and check off boxes and bring our work with us everywhere we go. Some days the closing work bell never rings.
There is an invaluable gift of our human presence that we can give to others and ourselves, and I have spent the last eight years desperately trying to find that balance.
Who would miss you most if you were gone?