My grandmother Jean was a native New Yorker from Greenwich Village. Standing nearly six feet tall in her stocking feet (but never hesitating to wear heels), she wore a bold red cape and chunky tribal jewelry. Her perfect posture had been learned by balancing books on her head. You could see her from blocks away, particularly as she was always flanked by her immaculately clipped standard poodles (that had names like Genevieve and Charles).
Growing up nearby in Chappaqua, I spent many enjoyable weekends with my grandmother. A graduate of the Juliard School of Music, she would play pieces for me on her Steinway grand piano, her hands quickly turning the note-filled pages. She would also cook for me, as if I were a grown up. Her specialty was banana flambé, and I'd be ushered into the kitchen to watch with excitement the cognac-induced flames.
Over civilized lunches, my grandmother would advise me about all manners of things. Often, she would invite interesting cab drivers from Punjab or Lagos or Cairo to join us, and I learned about their countries of origin over prolonged cups of tea. In typical fashion (for her) my grandmother began learning Arabic when she was 60 – not surprisingly, the sounds rolled right off her tongue.
She was, quite simply, like no one else. Not even close.
I remember – as if it were last week – a particular conversation that we had. She said this to me: Maryam, don’t live an ordinary life -- anyone can do that. Be brave. Live a life filled with adventure.
And so it is that now I pass on that message to you.