I Love Lucy to I Love Aly

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Today, July 28th, would have been my grandmother’s 85th birthday. When I was little I was convinced my grandmother and I were identical twins. Never mind the 60-year age difference, Nini was my soul twin and sister. Miraculously, we loved all of the same things—her homemade spaghetti and meatballs, reruns of I Love Lucy, bedtime stories like Make Way for Ducklings, and rummy tournaments that lasted over a decade. She also had a keen interest in my gymnastics practices, the third grade spelling bee, and any boy I had a crush on from elementary school through high school.

It wasn’t until she passed away that I discovered the secret behind our enduring bond: her love for me.

Turns out we didn’t just so happen to love exactly the same things. She made my interests her own. She made my trials and letdowns her own. She made my excitement her own. Now she may have been more apt to enjoy an I Love Lucy episode with me than a Power Rangers episode with my brothers, but I highly doubt she had an unbiased interest in the Agatha Christie novels I would recount to her in murderous detail or how a velvet leotard did not provide the same amount of cooling power as a Lycra one during a four hour gymnastics practice in a gym with only a declining swamp cooler to combat the sweltering heat. Always my biggest fan and partner in crime, Nini actively looked for ways to connect with me, to value me, to listen to me, and to encourage me. She made me feel loved and valuable no matter what.

Whenever I read Compassion by Henri Nouwen (which is about once a year), I am reminded more and more of Nini. Nouwen says, “When we have discovered that our sense of self does not depend on our differences and that our self-esteem is based on a love much deeper than the praise that can be acquired by unusual performances, we can see our unique talents as gifts for others.”

My grandma’s unconditional love gave me a sense of self and confidence that helped me see myself as a gifted and valuable person. Not to espouse selfishness, egocentrism or self-addiction, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that the key to loving others starts with loving myself or at least starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is something lovable and redeemable about me. Why else would Jesus command that we love others as ourselves? What reason would I have to believe that others have gifts and talents to offer the world if I don’t believe that I have anything to offer?

We all have a natural aptitude for selfishness, that’s not the issue. Self-centeredness has nothing to do with truly loving yourself and everything to do with seeking to fill the gaps in us that ache for love and acceptance. One of Nouwen’s antidotes to selfishness while interacting with others is to “Pay attention in a way that they begin to recognize their own value.” Perhaps we could apply this advice to ourselves as well. What if we paid attention to ourselves in a way that allows us to recognize our own value? And what if this belief in our own value spurred us to value others, to serve others, to encourage others?
When we believe we are loved and valued, we can shift our focus from seeking attention to seeking to love.

Thanks, Nini, for using I Love Lucy to help me believe I Love Aly.

Happy Birthday to the woman who paid attention to in a way that I began to recognize my own value.


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