My Nana, May Craig is her name – the mother of my mother – had her 100th Birthday last week. Humans are learning miracles. Our ability to learn, how we learn and who/what we learn from is pure magic.

Everyone is a teacher. Everyone is a learner. Every experience offers us growth.

We learn through individual experience and self-reflection, we learn from nature (everyone has their own ‘Octopus Teacher’), we learn at school and from books, movies, Youtube and all that is at our fingertips. We learn just from ‘turning up’ in the world.

There’s plenty to say on all of that, but here I am shining a light on one of my influential teachers – my Nana Teacher.

Nana comes from a different era. Her childhood stories are filled with connections to the Australian natural environment and animals. She has lived a good life, but not an easy life. Nana has taught me Resilience … without giving me any lessons. All I have to do is be with her (and even think of her) to learn how important it is to find some grit when times aren’t easy. She has gone through more hardship, watched more people die, and generally pushed through more tough times than any of us will have to deal with (it’s probably true for anyone who has turned 100).

We haven’t always agreed on certain topics, but I have learned Empathy from Nana by understanding who she is and the experiences that have shaped her life. We have different opinions about many things and we think about serious issues in a different way.

We haven’t always agreed but I have always respected her and understood that you don’t need to agree with someone to be able to love them.

Nana lives and breathes Integrity. There’s no short-cuts, no deviation, no compromise – everything she does, says and (assumption – but it’s not a risky one) thinks is aligned with a moral code of the highest calibre. Nana always does the right thing at the right time regardless of what others think. As a model of integrity, and how that looks in practice over a lifetime, is something that I aspire to.

If Nana was to give some advice on how to live to 100, she would definitely tell people to keep an active mind. To this day she is still one of the most intellectually active people I know. Nothing gets by her. Nothing. Nana could be in the record books for the total number of crossword puzzles completed – or consecutive days of puzzle completion.

I remember her teaching me Scrabble and the fun and laughs we had together – I could almost cry with nostalgia when I think back to the times when Nana, my mother and I played Scrabble together with Nana trying to help me win. For the record, I’ve never beaten her.

Nana taught me to be open to my own creativity. She has self-published her own books and is quite talented at bringing Australian fauna and flora to life with a paintbrush. Even with my obvious passion in Science and Numbers, Nana encouraged me to express myself in a variety of creative ways. It’s no surprise that I wrote a few novels and am very much into my own visual arts projects. To see her commitment to Arts as a genuine love of human expression has always been motivating for me.

All my memories of Nana are happy. Even when her husband (my Pop) died – this is difficult to say, but true – the extended time we spent together with Pop, and the time that I spent with Nana alone, are now times of happiness that I wouldn’t trade for anything. She’s an incredibly funny person, always with a quick wit and edgy sense of humor – and even when I video-called her on her birthday last week (only CoVid could have stopped me from being there in person), there was a spark in her eyes, that beautiful smile and that awesome laugh. Nana definitely taught me true happiness and that the secret to being happy was ‘just to be happy’.

Nana taught me how to ride a bicycle. I taught her how to drive a car. Nana trusted in me, even when my gap-decade must have raised some eyebrows in my family. Not only is my Nana one of my best friends, she is my favourite teacher. Happy Birthday Nana – I love you.