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Fifty million five hundred sixty thousand minutes. That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as the lyrics “five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes” from the song “Seasons of Love.”* But no matter, fifty million, five hundred sixty thousand minutes is the amount of time my Grandma has lived as of this past Saturday when she reached her 100th birthday. It truly was a momentous occasion and celebration.

100 years.

During the festivities, my aunt asked one question of everyone – Had anyone ever seen my Grandma angry? For those of us who have known her our entire lives and see her through many life events, the answer was no. She does not have an angry fiber in her. I’ve seen her irritated and disappointed and exasperated and tired, but never angry. And those other feelings only lasted moments and certainly without any long-standing grudges. Even while raising three very mischievous boys who tested her mettle every day of their teens and 20s, she held her cool. Mad is never a word to describe her. I don’t know she does it, but I’m certain it’s an angelic level of patience.

Grandma behind the counter.

Grandma behind the counter.

My aunt theorized perhaps Grandma had reached 100 years because she wasn’t harboring hurt or resentment or bad feelings. My grandparents owned a neighborhood corner market and butcher store for decades on Milwaukee’s south side. Grandma served as the resident “listener.” Patrons of the store would use the time while stocking up on groceries and supplies to bend my Grandma’s ear with the latest joys, sadness and events of their lives. She always stood behind the counter and listened. Even though the store has been shuttered for nearly 40 years, she still listens intently today.

These days during visits at the nursing home, she will sit in her wheelchair and listen to us discuss our lives, our trials and tribulations, our joys and our irritations. There’s irony in having a matriarch who is so calm and complacent, while most of us are rather quick to discuss our dissatisfactions. She accepts the long delays between visits without animosity. She is happy to see us when we have the time or when we make the journey from out of state. She is the stillness in our lives. When we leave, she gives a kiss and a smile.

Even at 100 years, Grandma is still patient, still kind and still listening. I have much to learn from her.
* Seasons of Love from the Broadway play “Rent.”