Today is my mother’s birthday. Although she died almost 16 years ago, the day feels significant and in need of some kind of acknowledgement. If she were still alive, I would bake a cake, set up a small party and find some small gift to give her. She would smile, particularly if her grandchildren, nieces or nephews were there, and she would be thankful and appreciative but somewhat discomfited by the fuss. She never really liked being the center of attention. She was kind and compassionate and knew this was a sign of our love and affection for her. So she would put aside her own discomfort and acknowledge that with her smiles and words of appreciation.
Now that she is no longer physically here, it seems the best gift I can give her is to reflect on what she left behind as her legacy. There was some money, yes, but not much, and it is long gone. Besides money is not really a legacy. I guess it falls under the category of “inheritance,” and I’m not unaware of the practical help it can be. But her true legacy is her sense of justice, honesty, patience and kindness. I try to put these into practice as much as I can, although I have to confess I frequently stumble over myself in the trying. In terms of “inheritance,” however, over the past 16 years I have realized that it is the small, tangible items that were hers that mean the most to me.
My two brothers and I are fortunate in that we get along well, are able to talk with each other honestly, and the division of her tangible assets went smoothly. With just a few minor compromises, each of us was able to take the things that meant most to us. I inherited a warm sweater, an old cast iron frying pan, and a small needlework wall hanging, declaring “Peace.”
One of the last things my mother ever said to me during the two weeks she was actively dying was when she noticed that item on her wall and stated in a strong and unequivocal voice, “PEACE! That is very important, PEACE!”
I have worn the sweater until it is ragged and falling apart, and I am contemplating how to create a pillow covering or some other useful item with the parts that are still intact. The cast iron pan has survived thousands of washings, some with soap and a scrub pad, and one serious burning to a crisp when my attention wandered. It was touch and go, but thanks to my resourceful husband, the pan was restored to use. And “Peace” hangs on my bedroom wall, a complement to the “Shalom” that hangs in my office.
Why do these small, relatively insignificant items mean so much to me? “Peace”is probably obvious, but what is so meaningful about an old sweater and a cast iron pan? I think it is because these items are like the tags that we add to our blog posts. They signal some deeper meaning and remind us what is truly important in our lives.
Whenever I see the frying pan, there is memory of my mother preparing food and feeding her family and memory of her commitment to nurture others–strangers, prisoners, people of all different races and religion.
When I see or wear the sweater, I remember her hugs, smiles and encouragement and her commitment to care for others–strangers, prisoners, people of all different races and religions.
This is my inheritance, and I will be forever grateful for it.
©Martha Hurwitz, 2/21/20