When I get older, I want to be a fat black grandmother, like the ones in the movies. Like Mammy of “Gone With the Wind” or Oracle in “The Matrix”; the older black women who are full of love and grace and wisdom. You can tell these women anything horrible that you’ve done and they respond with love and grace and typically ask you what you are going to do about your problem with a slice of wisdom to start you off. Now, as a small white woman, this will not happen quite the way I want it to, but I am going to do my darnedest.
Being wise takes experience. Anyone can be knowledgeable. When my son was little, I must have told him a thousand times that the frying pan was hot. That’s knowledge. When he touched the hot frying pan, he became wiser. That’s experience. This is the challenge of youth. Teenagers desperately want to be considered smart because they confuse intelligence with wisdom. They “know” everything yet we all understand they barely “know” anything because they are not old enough to have had the experiences they need. And, let’s admit it, we were all teenagers at one time.
We need people in our lives who are willing to walk with us through our experiences and help us to become wiser. My first project was in Bethpage, which is in Long Island, NY. I was fresh out of college and knew basically nothing about being on my own. In late October, my project manager sized up my Texas “coat” and sent me directly to Roosevelt Fields mall to buy a long coat “past my knees”, hat, scarf and gloves. I had a coat. She taught me that a long coat made all the difference. I will always remember her loving me enough to make me buy those things.
On my next project, I was an abject failure on the subject of wisdom. There was this one guy named Patrick who I despised because he was so unyielding. As I am the definition of stubbornness in my own right, we would literally have whisper fights in our cubicle. God had mercy on me in the way of a woman named Jo Washington. Jo invited me to her apartment for dinner one evening and told me I reminded her of herself at that age. I have no idea how old Jo was at the time but, for me, she was wise beyond her years. She set out to mentor me and I have loved her ever since.
When I look back at my first five years of working after college, I see that I what I lacked in experience I made up doubly for in enthusiasm and attitude. There are a few people who I owe apologies to because I put them in awkward spots or said unforgivable things to them. One manager made me cry and I owe her the greatest of thanks for putting me right where I belonged. Another manager taught me how to live life well. A few of my managers taught me what NOT to do, but even to them, I say thanks because those experiences made me wiser too.
We all act the fool when we are young. We make rash statements and declarations. We have half-formed opinions that we wield uncontrollably. This is the beauty and curse of youth. Young people would do well to ask questions, listen more and speak less. And as we grow more experienced and wiser, we “older” people have a responsibility to share our wisdom. If you want to positively impact someone’s life, the best way is to love them first and then chasten them. This should be our goal as we travel down this road together. As for me, I want to be one of those women who will listen to you as you describe to me the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life, hug you tight, love you with grace and ask you how you are going to make it right. This is how I am going to be a fat black grandmother.