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It’s been just over a year that my grandmother died. Nana, as I always called her, was a lifelong educator. She not only taught her children and grandchildren, but she taught high school English for 25 years in Utah.
In the year since her death, I’ve thought a lot about her and the lessons and legacy she left behind. When she retired from teaching, my mom planned an open house for her, and former students formed a line that stretched far outside of her front door. They had come because they felt connected to her – her teaching had made a lasting impression.
Before she died, my mom and her siblings planned a 90th birthday for Nana. Again, people came in droves. As much as she could, she tried to remember the faces and names of those who came to see her.
Her funeral, because of COVID-19, was much smaller. Only her children and grandchildren were there. As I chatted with my cousins, we discovered that we all believed that we were Nana’s favorite. We all had times when Nana had connected with us and taught us.
In this last year, I’ve tried to think what was it about Nana that created a lasting impact on so many. How did so many people feel about her the way that I feel about her?
I think I’ve finally found my answer. Nana knew how to connect.
When we think about connection, we typically just think about emotions – if I’m connected to you, when you do something I’ll feel happy or sad, mad or excited, depending on what you do.
But a lasting connection goes beyond that. To create a lasting connection it is not just about emotions, it is about connecting things together that often seem fragmented.
Nana was an expert at this. She knew how to create space, whether in her classroom or in her home, to foster authentic relationships between people. She knew that the things she routinely did that often seemed boring were laying the groundwork for something greater. She knew that when a crisis arrives, you need to solve it, but you also have to think through what happened beforehand to bring the crisis about.
Nana knew the lasting connection was not only about the moment, but also about the future.
In my office at the University of Iowa I have a signed bowling pin. I got it at a birthday party my family threw for me at a bowling alley. Everyone there had the opportunity to sign and most did it with things you’d expect like, “Happy Birthday” or “You’re getting so old” – it was my 25th birthday. But Nana wrote something different.
Her message: “To my professor.” At that point I could have never dreamt that I would be able to have the position I do now. But Nana saw the connection. About a decade before anyone would call me professor, Nana had already laid the groundwork for it to happen.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a professor in the University of Iowa College of Education. He is also the co-host of the Attached Podcast. Comments: email@example.com