People of the Sun

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Scott Lawrie’s grandmother taught him a simple way to find the space to appreciate life, even when the going gets tough.

Calling my maternal grandmother “Nana” presents an inaccurate and archaic stereotype of who she was. Through and through, she was Betty — kitten heels, clip on earrings in the pool and the sort of oil-amplified sheen you see in Slim Aarons’ photos. It was a lifetime away from the rain-soaked Welsh row house and restrictive car factory job that seemed to define her during my mom’s youth.

Each summer, when the nuns of our Catholic school departed to visit friends and family in Ireland, Betty flew in the opposite direction from her tiny English village of Tewksbury to our San Diego suburb. She watched me during the hours that my parents delivered wedding cakes and baked apple strudel for their European bakery. Betty’s summer camp curriculum entailed unapologetic sunbathing, thematic analysis of soap opera plot lines and instructions on how to gamble. But the most enduring and potent memory of late is how she purposefully lingered at traffic lights on our walks.

Holding hands to ensure my safety, Betty would close her eyes, soften her face and orient directly toward the sun. Often, it was my responsibility to herald the light change. I mistook these calm moments for even more sunbathing.

As an adult now, I think I understand these deliberate pauses during her day. She was a woman who had fortified herself to endure the death of a beloved son-in-law, a late-in-life divorce in a small village with more gossip than inhabitants and the agonizing months spent in the hospital after a driver hit her, sending her through his windshield.


Decades and an ocean away from that pain, Betty seemed to be celebrating the stillness and quieting herself for a moment — a sort of micro-meditation.

It’s something I’ve been employing this year in the midst of my own difficult life situations. I catch myself at crosswalks closing my eyes, facing the sun and deciding to be still for a moment.

Without fail, I picture Betty and her warm ancestral assurance that today is a fleeting gift, like all of the ones that preceded it — one to be honored and appreciated.

With a Perspective, I’m Scott Lawrie.

Scott Lawrie lives in San Francisco with his partner and their two dogs.