One of the lessons my introverted grandfather taught me was that it’s okay to be quiet — instead, you can love with your listening.
Pop (my grandfather) never said much. He was the first quiet person I knew, the first person with whom I remember enjoying silence. We’re both quiet by nature, and this always made me feel a little bit closer to him.
He recently passed away after a wonderful 82 years. For 31 of those years, I was lucky enough to be with him, watch him, and learn from him. I’m not sure he knew the important lessons he taught me under the radar. But I’d like to share them with you.
3 Lessons My Introverted Grandfather Taught Me
1. Be determined. (Plus, it doesn’t require talking.)
Pop never gave up. When he saw a problem that needed fixing, and he thought he could do it, he jumped right in. The doorknob of my childhood bedroom broke (thanks to a couple of kids being kids), and when he saw it months later, he grabbed his toolbox and went to fixing it. His quietness was often coupled with confused faces and frustrated sighs, but that doorknob was fixed. (To this day, the doorknob is vertical rather than horizontal, but it does the job. And it’s also a nice remembrance of him.)
These faces and sighs only grew when he worked on the daily jumble and crossword puzzle. Pop had his morning routine of working on these puzzles, using his left hand when he was a righty, to try and keep his brain strong. As soon as a lull in the breakfast conversation came, he’d say, “Hey, Coll,” gently put the paper in front of me, and point to the word he was stuck on. Sometimes there would be a “What do you think?” or a description of what he had so far. When he’d get it, a “Yes” would escape his lips and his excitement would rain over you like a summer sprinkle as he filled in the correct answer.
The man was quiet, but he was competitive. You saw the disappointment cloud his face when he lost, just as much as you saw the boyish smirk quietly gloating when he won. Though I don’t have his competitiveness, I do my best to keep my own determination strong. I saw him struggle, and I saw him work until he succeeded.
Whenever I am tempted to give up, he’ll cross my mind. His determination will flow through me and I’ll be reinvigorated, for no reason other than I started something important to me.
2. It’s okay to be quiet and to take alone time when you need it.
The first person I can remember being truly quiet with is my Pop. Whether it was a puzzle, euchre (a card game), croquet, or ping-pong, it was all about concentrating on the task at hand. We didn’t chat and play — we just played.
My logical brain didn’t recognize the relief that washed over me in these moments. I didn’t have to make conversation. (No small talk required!) I could just focus. Now I can understand the feelings of peace when I was with him compared to the “work” of being with other people who are not nearly as comfortable with silence and just “being.”
Pop would socialize, too — just not like the rest of us. He’d listen with many nods, a few words, and maybe a question. With small gatherings, when he needed a break, he went and did his crossword or jumble in the other room, while the rest of us would continue to talk. With big gatherings, he’d pull out the cards, start setting up the table, and just shuffle until three more people sat down for euchre. In watching him for so many years, Pop showed me that it’s important to know your limits and to take the time and space you need when you need it.
That being said, I’m someone who struggles with socialization. It’s hard to live in a world where socialization is the expectation and silence is the strange. Even though it may have seemed rude for Pop to get some space — or effectively change the direction of the gathering without saying a word — he didn’t force his silence away in order to be with people. He didn’t talk just to be a part of the group. Instead, he showed up as his quiet self.
When I’m feeling socially awkward and that I should talk more, I remind myself to follow his example: It’s okay to be your quiet self. Your people, those who truly “get” you, will love you for it.
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3. Love fiercely — you can love with listening, not words.
You always felt Pop’s love. Ever the gentleman, he would be waiting at the door (if it was cold) or right at the top of the driveway when you pulled in. “Hiya, Hon!” came out in full force with a kiss and the biggest hug every time. Oh my, the message he put in those hugs. You knew he missed you and that he was excited to see you. Never shy about wanting to show you, he’d pull you close and say, “I love you.”
There were never lectures or advice on “You need to do this” or opinions on “I think this is best.” He never turned the conversation around to him, never cut your story off with his. His words didn’t vary much, so he loved you with his listening and made you feel valued. He’d follow closely to whatever story you were telling and offer big smiles to show his pride in your accomplishments. There would be “beautiful” and “so great” sprinkled throughout. His compliments were nothing but genuine. His love was quiet, yet unabashed. It was a take-care-of-you, so-proud-of-you, unconditional love. He didn’t share much of his life, but he gave you his heart every single time.
When I think of the way he loved, it makes me wonder if I could ever love as truly as he did. Do I show my people the same unconditional and unabashed heart? I try to, because when I imagine his hugs, that smile, that feeling of pure safety, I feel so thankful I had it for as long as I did. Everything in me wants to pay it forward every chance I can.
‘Singing’ His Praises — Then and Now
I loved his quiet, but my favorite was when he sang. Nothing made him more joyful, or fully himself, than when he belted out a chorus from a musical he loved or one of his old barbershop quartet songs. Talking was not his strong suit, but he was so expressive as he filled another’s words with his own tenor.
Pop and I are both July babies, so we’d have our shared party and cake. I’m pretty sure this was my 18th birthday: We were standing in my aunt’s kitchen next to our cookie cake, and he was behind me, hands on my shoulders, as we all sang. I can still feel the pride, joy, and love for his family that emanated from him. You’d never know there was a quiet bone in his body.
The last time I spent with Pop was the most talkative I can ever remember him being. I will always cherish the sound of his voice, and the honesty and joy with which he spoke that day in particular. But it’s our shared quiet that will always be my favorite. Without a single word from him, I know what it means to go for something and follow through, to be yourself without apology, and most importantly, love.