I didn’t grow up with an idol, plenty of crushes, sure, but no icons or symbols of the person I wanted to be. I really just wanted to be happy being me. I’m still the same. The list of men who stir up my loins grows longer by the day. But the list of people I idolize or wish to become lies with one: my nonna Today is my Grandma’s birthday. A vibrant and dynamic soul at any age, she remains the single person in this world I can ever remember looking up to in that way, seeing the woman I could be. It doesn’t mean I didn’t admire or respect countless others, because I absolutely did, but there was truly no celebrity, no athlete, no writer, no fellow classmate who lived love as beautifully as she did. And this truth lives on.

Me and Grammy (her actual name is Paola) at the Field Museum in Chicago

Grammy and Me

She is the reason I respect authenticity over accomplishments, sincerity over success, love over luxury. The epitome of what you see is what you get, my bella nonna lived such a beautiful example. She never forced or hammered her ideas in your head, she taught through action. The proof was in the pudding.

A quality I admire deeply in others is genuine confidence, a love of self that translates seamlessly into the love of others, an effortless respect paid to life and those who live it.

She is confident. Truly confident. In a way that’s not off-putting but rather endearing. You cannot help but smile and agree. I see her love for herself and my thought is, “hell yes, you are beyond lovable.” Without excessive makeup or suggestive clothing, Grandma walked the walk, a saunter only belonging to her, a style with no label, but one with her own special signature.

Grammy and my dad cutting a rug, joy radiating from her eyes and heart

Grammy and Dad

She’s exactly who I wanted to be when I envisioned myself as a grown woman. And the older I become the more I see how much there is to love within myself, the more I see her light in my eyes. Without saying the words “I don’t gossip or speak badly of others,” she just didn’t. There was no petty hate toward other women, no blaming others when something didn’t go her way. She took responsibility for herself, let nonsense from the outside world roll gracefully off her back and just got on with her life.

I wrote about the wisdom she lived and passed down to me for another publication. As I reflect upon those lessons, I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have had her as an example. She’s had many reasons to let life bring her down but she just kept looking up. She’s owned who the hell she is with humor, trust and presence. She’s carried a lifetime of positive relationships, including 53 years strong with my Poppa. She chose love over needing to be right, never held grudges, never let anger or negative emotions fester. She knows how to let go.

And what a presence she has. More than having to be the center of attention or harp on making her presence known, she leaves the deepest impact because her absence is always felt. I miss her deeply. Luckily, she is a phone call and a few hour plane ride away. More than that, her blood is in my veins, her love in my heart, her wisdom in my gut.

During my difficult days, ones where I feel low, inadequate, insecure and insignificant, I feel her resonance, I channel her energy. My blunt nature and feisty attitude began with her, so with a little tough love I say, “Nut up or shut up, Danielle. Life is a gift, stop wasting time on bullshit. Laugh it off and move on.” She survived much worse suffering than I, has lived happily and healthily for over 70 years, I can certainly muster up the psychological fortitude to live with the same ease and gratitude she does.

One of my most significant memories during childhood was of my grandma checking herself over in the mirror (something she didn’t waste too much on, preferring to embrace and lightly enhance what nature gave her), smiling and saying, “Not bad for fifty.” I fucking love it. She said it at 60 and 70 too. She’s still got it.

My beautiful momma and nonna making gnocchi together

Momma and Grammy

We should all look at ourselves with the same benevolence. It made it so easy for her to love others, even easier for her to forgive others. She never let the words or actions of another affect her internal well-being. This is so Yoga! But it’s so rarely seen and lived by our fellow human beings. Not to disparage anyone, this is really difficult to do. All the more amazing that my beautiful Italian grandmother is able to truly inhabit it.

We experience love first before we’re able to understand it. Words and ideas muck it up but as we grow older we learn HOW to love by the examples we live with. How we love others begins within. When I see one who is unkind, resentful, angry and otherwise incapable of truly loving another, I feel tremendous sympathy and compassion, for this poor soul must treat themselves even worse. Their karma is having to live with themselves each day.

My Nonna knew innately to let others be, without attachment or expectations. She took care of her own, absorbed only the energy that would serve her, and in turn, gave back precisely what she was harnessing inside: Love.

It is through her I remember to never compare myself to another and not to compete either. We are all the same, each bright lights capable of shining. It is up to us to feed the love within rather than the chaos without. It is her that reminds to live joyfully each day, no matter who sings my praises or knows my name, no matter how much money I have or stakes to claim, it’s a privilege just to be here. And being me ain’t that bad, I need to appreciate it and take the gifts my grandma passed on and give as much as I can to others, so they may feel that same pure love within we all seek for outside.

It all resides inside. Enjoy the ride.

Thank you, Grammy. I love you and appreciate you more than you could ever know. I couldn’t fathom a better idol than you.