Have you ever noticed how easy it is to judge someone else’s priorities?

And then to fill in the blanks between those perceived priorities with sweeping generalizations about that person’s values?  Screaming child in the supermarket?  Must be poor parenting.  Manifesting a muffin top?  Must be a lack of diet discipline.

When your way isn’t my way, the easiest default is to believe my way is the best way.  Or the only way.  And in those moments, I wonder what would happen if we could pause long enough to ask ourselves one open-ended question.  Without judgement.

What else could this mean?

I’ll never forget the time when asking that question caused me to discover something – and more importantly – someone in a new way.   

“Could you help me?” a gentle voice inquired.  “Please?”  My grandmother’s pleading eyes held my gaze intently as she perched on the edge of a grey upholstered chair.  Laugh lines framed her thin lips in a faint, familiar smile. 

Her hands shook slightly, the reminder of a long life well-lived, as she handed me the tattered pieces of fabric.  The fraying edges of the squares and the faded colors of the very fibers themselves told me they were from another era….pieces of a vintage 1960’s nightgown, a throwback to a simpler time.  

But that moment – right then – those tattered squares were important to my grandmother.  As she handed me square after square, I started to wonder what was so important about these tiny pieces of the past.

Piecing Together A New Perspective

For years, I had stared into the lines on my grandmother’s face.  Noticed the way she held her hands.  The gentle curve of her fingers.  Listened to her read me stories, from before I could read myself.  But no matter how hard I looked, or how long I listened, there was one critical detail that had never registered.  Two tiny words, wrapped inside her heart, hidden between her salt and pepper curls and smiles and sighs.  Two words that were the guiding light for every decision she ever made.

What Matters?

When I looked at the tattered pieces of that nightgown, I saw an unfinished project.  My grandmother, her kind eyes twinkling, saw what mattered.  What I judged as a failure of unfinished business, she was turning into a success. Because, for her, the time was right, right now, to finish a long-abandoned project. Who was right: was it a triumph over the trivial, after decades on end? Or a failure of missed opportunity, too long gone to save? 

One project, two perspectives.   

Was I really thinking my grandmother lacked time management skills, at a time like this?  Why would such a simple request spark such harsh judgements from someone who loved her so much?  

And that’s when a life-changing realization struck me:  the pattern that needed my urgent attention wasn’t the one resting on my lap.  What needed restyling was the pattern of my choices.  I needed to make a few cuts of my own.  I needed to stop looking at action, and start looking at connection.     

I had stitched together endless to-do lists to fashion a life.  That was my way.  My success.  My path.  My grandmother took a different journey, as she had done all her life.  She wove memories into a legacy.  Because she knew what I didn’t.  She knew what matters. 

I wanted to be her.  I wanted that style in the fabric of my life.  I wanted to craft something new out of the patterns of the past.  Something I had seen but never really realized.  Until now.

Hers was a timeless style I wanted to emulate.  She made me feel like I mattered.  Always.  In every moment.  I mattered more than any task.  Any to-do.  Anything.  

What would it mean to you to start each day by asking yourself, “What matters?”  

When you scan the pattern of your life, which pieces still fit?  Perhaps your past preconceptions no longer suits your present problems.  Maybe in trying to keep the pieces together – to hold yourself together – you’ve lost sight of who and what matters most.  I’ve been there, too.

What I’ve discovered is it’s never too late to make alterations. No matter how old the pattern.   I was reminded of my retro realization when a girlfriend stopped by to drop something off unexpectedly the other day.  From her perch on the porch, she could see my holiday decorations donning the den.

“I’m so glad to see you still have your decorations up, too,” she exclaimed, almost shocked. The holiday had come and gone more than a month ago.  Instead of turning toward the unfinished task behind me, I looked toward the person in front of me.  Through my parted lips, I heard my grandmother’s voice, “I decided it didn’t matter.”