Why I Walk With My Grandparents Every Morning
I’m at an interesting point in my life. COVID-19 hit right as I was about to graduate from college, so I’ve been back home for the past year. On top of that, I’m starting medical school in the Fall, so I’ve really had nothing but time on my hands while I wait to begin my new journey.
With this time, I decided to invest in something truly meaningful to me. Every morning, I wake up, have a cup of coffee with my maternal grandparents, and go for an hour-long walk with them outside to catch the sunrise.
Coming back home after four years has really given me the time to think about my life, the choices I’ve made, and especially the people who have impacted me.
But to understand why I decided to write this article, you first have to understand a little more about me.
I was the first generation of my family to be born in the United States, but my heritage is entirely Indian. Growing up in an Indian household, my culture taught me a lot about the importance of family.
We’re a very tight-knit type of people. On occasion, I’ve had more than ten people in my family living in the same household. Keep in mind that I only have one sibling, so most of my family is on the older side.
I’m very blessed to say that I’ve been able to live with all four of my grandparents for a big portion of my life. The experiences I’ve had with them and the lessons I’ve learned are truly unforgettable.
My maternal grandparents, in particular, are my biggest source of inspiration in life. As a child, my mom was hospitalized very frequently, so I was raised in large part by my grandparents. On the day I was born, my grandmother even quit her job in order to take care of me. Pretty much all of my earliest memories revolve around them.
My situation is definitely rare. Not many people have their grandparents in their lives, let alone to the extent that I do. With these memories and my upbringing, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the 4 most important lessons I’ve learned from my grandparents.
Lessons #1: Giving to Others
My grandpa and I often have long conversations about life, much of which involves stories from his past. And the one who taught him the most was his own father.
My grandpa grew up with 12 other siblings, and he was the eldest son of the family. His mother died when he was a young child, so he had to shoulder a lot of familial responsibility from a young age.
They didn’t have much; my great-grandpa had hardly gone to school, lived in a small village in India, and relied on simple industrial work to make a living and feed his family.
One day, when my grandpa was a young man, a friend of his father came knocking on the door of their small house. He came to ask for some money since he was experiencing financial difficulty.
When telling me this story, my grandpa said to me,
“I saw my dad reach into his pocket. He pulled out whatever change and spare bills he had, which is all we had, and handed it to his friend. I was so angry, demanding to know why my father was crazy enough to give away all his money when he had a family to take care of. But my dad didn’t respond with much. He looked at me and said, ‘Babu (my grandpa’s nickname), always hold out your hand like this and never like this.’”
The gesture he made was one of holding your hand out to give to others instead of taking.
As my grandpa told this story, he would always look away, as if remembering his father and the lessons he taught him.
Now the great thing about my grandpa was that he spoke in a way that never meant he was specifically giving me advice or telling me to act a certain way. He just talked about his life, and the interpretation and decision-making were left up to me. That’s what I love about my grandpa: He always trusts me.
This life lesson of giving to others really stuck with me. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons I decided to pursue medicine. It’s my own way of helping others and giving back to the people around me.
Lesson #2: Show Respect Through Communication
Interestingly enough, I learned how to communicate from my grandparents. Now I don’t mean learning how to talk as an infant, but rather the ability to communicate appropriately.
This was much more of a subtle lesson, one that I picked up primarily through experience and exposure, so it’s a little difficult to explain. But let me do my best to describe what I mean.
Being surrounded by so many family members that are older than me expanded my communication horizon. In school, we talk to our friends and our teachers. At home, we talk to our siblings and parents. And that’s about it. I had an additional layer added to my conversations on a daily basis: all four of my grandparents.
This type of environment really taught me the value of respect, and how you convey respect through conversation. This wasn’t confined to respect towards my elders, but rather respect towards everyone.
The biggest lesson I learned about respect was listening carefully. When my grandparents talk, I listen. When my parents talk, I listen. When my friends talk, I listen. When my younger brother talks, I listen.
Listening is crucial. Listening to others is what develops respect. If I’m not listening to what you’re saying, then why should I expect you to listen to me? On the same note, if I’m listening carefully to you, then I do expect you to listen just as carefully to me. This is the value of mutual respect for one another.
Anytime I have conversations with my grandparents, the best way I can respect them and learn from them is simply by listening. My words aren’t enough to do this topic justice, but my hope is you take the time to listen to everyone around you before inputting your own two cents.
Let’s take this lesson back to my pursuit of medicine. Medicine is about listening. Patients don’t just come in to get problems fixed; they want someone to listen to them. Especially with the rural communities I’ve worked with, they really want someone to lend them an ear.
As physicians, we can’t always “cure” everything. Many problems and conditions often go untreated. But what we can do is listen. Listen to our patients, listen to our colleagues, and listen to our teams.
Lesson #3: Not Wasting Food and Resources
I think it rarely crosses many of our minds exactly how much food, water, and general resources we tend to waste on a daily basis. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that an estimated 30–40% of our food supply is wasted! The reason I mention this as a very important life lesson is because of the time I spent with my grandmother in particular.
One of the earliest set of memories I have is eating with my grandmother. When I was a child, my grandma loved cutting slices of watermelon for me. She would lay them out nicely on a plate for me to enjoy.
As a typical kid, I would eat all the delicious watermelon slices and then run away from the dining table to go play. My grandma would then furiously bring me back to the table, and I would be pretty confused most of the time.
She used to look at me and say, “What do you see?” as she pointed to the empty watermelon slices. Practically squinting my eyes, I would notice specks of the color red remaining on the slices. Essentially, I had to sit there and eat every bit of red that was noticeable.
I always love telling this story because I think it speaks levels to the type of person my grandmother is. Waste of any kind was unacceptable to her. The other story I like to tell is what I call “The Napkin Story.”
As I spent all this time living and eating with my grandparents, they also taught me to wash my hands thoroughly as a kid. After I would wash my hands, I would grab either a napkin or paper towel to wipe my hands. Normally, people throw away any paper towels they used to wipe their hands. But not my grandma!
She would have me uncrumple the napkin, fold it, and lay it out on the counter to use again later. Setting aside cross-contamination, this story always makes me laugh. Remembering these events from my life with my grandma always puts a smile on my face.
It was just such a bizarre experience to be resuing napkins, but again, it really highlights the type of person my grandma is.
Did you know that more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year in just the U.S.?
My grandma definitely doesn’t know that, and yet she’s so conscious about waste and never unnecessarily using resources. Coming from a small village in India, she instilled this subconscious lesson into me.
Lesson #4: The Value of Money, Education, and Family
This last lesson is by far the most important one to me. When I was about to start college, I intended to loan out my four years as many students do.
This was pretty stressful for me since I already knew the huge debt I was going to accrue from medical school tuition itself (~300k+). But the day I prepared myself to accept the loan offers, my grandpa pulled my family over to the side.
Calmly, he told us first how proud he was of his first grandson, me, going to college. And then he said to me, “Over the past 20 years, I’ve been saving up some of my money, little by little, for you to use to pay for college.”
I couldn’t believe it. Tears were pouring down my face. The reality had sunk in just how much my grandpa cared about me, my education, and my dreams.
We often reflect on this time together, and it makes my grandpa so happy to see how much I’ve been able to accomplish in the past 4 years.
He always tells me, “What’s the point of making money if you’re not going to use it for the right reasons? If I can give my hard work to my kids and grandkids, then I’m very happy with the life I’ve lived.”
I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without my grandparents. Family, money, education, helping others — everything I’ve learned about living a successful life has come from them.
And so now I walk, each morning, side by side with the ones who raised me. And I continue to reflect, each and every day, about the lessons I’ve learned from them and the man I hope to be.