As you know, grandmothers have been on my mind.

They pop up in the most surprising places.

At the recent march in Washington, DC,

In my own memory of my peacemaker grandma.

And in the class I am teaching to 22-year-olds.

Great great great grandmother at age 102.

Here, for example is a still photo from the TED talk I encouraged my students to watch. I wanted them to see how research on aging and health might help them to establish, in youth, their own worldview, or reason for being. The Japanese have a name for why they get up in the morning.

They call it ikigai.

This woman lives in Okinawa, Japan, one of the four places across the globe studied by National Geographic writer and explorer, Dan Buettner. Like most people who live in Okinawa, she knows her purpose in life. It is her great great great granddaughter. When Buettner asked her what it feels like to hold a great great great granddaughter, she put her head back and said,

“It feels like leaping into heaven.”

We as a species developed our capacity for longer life and greater empathy because grandmothers of the past stayed alive long enough to help their children care for their children.

This “grandmother effect” can be seen in this diagram:

From “The Evolutionary Importance of Grandmothers,” The Atlantic, October 24, 2012

Anthropologist  Kristen Hawkes studied Hadza hunter-gatherers and noticed that when grandmothers helped with childrearing, the life expectancy of their offspring increased. She developed the chart above to illustrate the remarkable impact grandmothers have had on longevity.

The grandmothers’ style of upbringing, with its emphasis on social dependence, gave rise to “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”

Grandmothers, Hawkes says, are what make us human.

Grandpas who nurture must have a similar impact, don’t you think?

Today a Facebook friend Roxanne, put up these words quoting Mr. Rogers:

The presence of a grandparent confirms that parents were, indeed, little once, too, and that people who are little can grow to be big, can become parents, and one day even have grandchildren of their own. So often we think of grandparents as belonging to the past; but in this important way, grandparents, for young children, belong to the future.”

Belonging to the future.

Yesterday I got a picture of the future in the mail. It’s hanging on my refrigerator.

Baby Stoltzfus at 20 weeks

Baby Stoltzfus at 20 weeks

In the midst of turmoil in the outer world,

I focus on this image, praying not only for this new life but for all the little children of the world.

My brother sent me this image from his latest visit to Mother:

Four generations of mothers and grandmothers and baby Barbara Ann Hess.

Four generations of mothers and grandmothers. L-R Barbara Hershey Brubaker Herr, Mary Ann Bowers Hershey Brubaker and baby Barbara Ann Hess, Anna Mary Herr Hess, 1927.

In just 27 days Mother will turn 90.

In a few months, we hope to take another picture of four generations — four women all with the middle name of Ann.

Whenever a new great grandchildren enters her life, Mother smiles just as broadly as the great great great grandmother from Okinawa above.

Grandmothers make us human, they extend our lives, and they help children imagine what they themselves can become.

Sound like a job description?

Better than that! It sounds like an ikigai!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Do you have a grandmother memory to share?

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