Lessons from My 103 Year-Old Grandmother

My family and I were blessed to celebrate my grandmother’s 103rd birthday last week.

That’s right. 103.

My beautiful Abuela was born in a little town outside of Havana, Cuba in 1909, and she has lived an extraordinary life.

Her story is a testament to the power of perseverance, simplicity, and service – and I believe that her longevity is tied to these qualities.

Here are some of the lessons that I have learned from her:

1. Follow your bliss. 

My grandmother was born into a large, hardworking family. Her father was a tobacco farmer and her mother raised and cared for seven children. At a young age, my grandmother decided that she wanted to become a teacher, and she pursued an education in the face of severe economic adversity, numerous dictatorships, and at a time when women were not encouraged to work outside of the home. She earned a PhD in adult education in 1945, and dedicated herself to teaching adults until she left Cuba in1966.

2. Eat simply and mindfully. 

My grandmother has always eaten simply and in small quantities. Her diet has consisted mainly of an abundance of fruits and vegetables, little meat, and hardly any sugar. She always stayed away from sauces and sugary treats and ate mindfully at every meal, chewing thoroughly, and savoring each bite. Even at her 103rd birthday, she only ate a few bites of her cake, chewed it slowly, and proclaimed “Esta divino!”

3. Serve others. 

After emigrating from Cuba and coming to the United States at the age of 57, my grandmother wholeheartedly jumped into a life of service. She volunteered at a senior center every single day until the ripe age of 95. She found value in her new life and shared her gifts even with all of the challenges that immigrating to a new country and leaving a behind beloved homeland brought with them.

4. Marvel at the miraculous. 

My grandmother often stopped to marvel at the beauty of a flower, the brilliance of a leaf, and the magnificence of the sunset. She recognized the miracle in the tiniest seed and she continues to marvel at the beauty of nature around her.

5. Walk as much as possible. 

My grandmother has spent her life walking. She never owned a car or learned how to drive. She walked everywhere – to the bank and grocery store, and used public transportation when traveling longer distances.

6. Engage your mind. 

Even after her 100th birthday, my grandmother spent her days reading literary masterpieces, writing, and doing handiwork. She read two to three books per week, wrote beautiful, thoughtful poetry, and at 96 years of age, crocheted her own bedspread!

7. Keep a song in your heart. 

Even as we celebrated my grandmother’s 103rd birthday last week, she was quick to burst into song. I remember watching her sing as she did the dishes, washed her clothes, and swam in the ocean. She used songs to lift her spirits, cultivate joy, and as a tool help her to relish the mundane.

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