Each day I wake, I continue to be amazed by the complexity of the interactions of the everyday and the ordinary we so take for granted. Take time to glance around at the people you pass each day, in the grocery store, at the traffic light, on the bench waiting for the city bus....It is fascinating, sobering even, to recognize the myriad of emotions on those faces. One doesn't even have to connect on a personal level to wonder the intent behind those strangers' eyes.
Happiness, sadness, discontent, confusion, frustration.....They are all there.....The secret is what inspires their expression. We may indeed be one small verbal greeting or one simple smile away from making another's day feel as if the world is a brighter place, but far too often we race through the day with blinders on to anything but the focus of our priority. The good Samaritan comes into play only when the situation merits a strong response when in fact we are needed in far more basic ways that escape us more times than we can dare to count.
The wisest woman I have ever known was also the most humble by leaps and bounds. If you are of faith, then trust me to say that she was a living saint among us. If you are not, then merely understand that she was a being of inherent light and love. Velma Deak was an unassuming woman of no considerate means. She was not a woman whose appearance warranted strangers to take note. Yet, wherever she went she touched the lives of everyone she came in contact with. She spoke more with the way she interacted with the world and those around her than any words she uttered ever could. Velma was an immigrant who came to these stateside shores in the early 1920s, escaping the war stealing the freedoms from her native land of Hungary. She was my grandmother, and in my eyes, one of the most beautiful beings I will ever know.
A quiet woman, her life revolved around reaching her hand out to all who needed a boost, a friend, a smile, a belief that someone actually cares. The most significant lesson she taught me was about our responsibility as members of humanity. She said that one's true personal wealth cannot be measured by the material belongings we claim as our own....Those can be gone in an instant. It is measured by the legacy we leave in our wake. This legacy isn't of some grandiose scale and yet its reach is more impressive than one would think. We as writers strive to impact those who consider the gravity of our words, yet we fail sometimes to express ourselves as eloquently in the simplest of life's moments....I am also guilty of imparting far more wisdom in the written text than I employ in my own rhythm of existence.
I was such a small child, when one morning, Grammy and I were sitting in the grass watching the flowers sway in the breeze. She talked to them, and it seemed they reacted to her warm voice. I asked how they understood her, and she laughed at my innocence with a loving tone that resonated through me like an intraveneous hug. She said, "They sense the kindness and wish to give back. Patricia, every morning when you awake, again you stand on the shores of the bank of still waters. In your hand is a stone. You pull your arm back and toss the stone into those waters and watch as the ripples flow from its center, but you walk away long before those ripples fade and die. If you leave a positive part of yourself with everyone you meet along life's path, you have indeed lived a rich life. You will never know how far reaching one simple act of kindness, one small smile, will have on another's life."
It has been 25 long years since the afternoon I arrived at my mother's to find that she had passed before I could make it back. The prior evening had been long. My sister and I were there to support mom as she prepared for the goodbye none of us wish to ever face. My first child was just 6 months old and I had to leave that morning for a check up with the doctor. Perhaps the genius who created this universe thought it best I not be there in that last hour, but the sting of that loss is as fresh as the day I found her there in that chair, my mother at her feet, a smile on Grammy's face though life's blood no longer coursed through her delicate veins. She died with such peace and eloquence that I was moved more to tears for the beautiful gift she left in those moments than for the pain of the loss washing over me. I miss her as much today as I did that June 11th...and in that moment, as I saw the anguish on my own mother's face, I vowed to be the one who held her hand when that time came.
Some twenty years later, I sat in a hospital room, mother's hand in mine, dozing from the exhausting twelve days of sitting by her side and sleeping in a chair beside her. I was determined that she would be coming back home with me....but that afternoon, I woke to find her hands clammy and a cool sweat on her pale skin. I calmly called out to the nurse on duty, a kind young girl who smiled when she spoke with us and made me feel as if mom and every one of her patients was as important as any other. She in turn called the respiratory tech who took me aside to speak out of ear shot of the other members of the staff present. "Trish, your mom's lungs no longer are processing the oxygen she takes in dear. There is nothing we can do. I am afraid this is it." Fear paralyzed my body, grief stole my heart and tears burned my eyes. I had to be strong. I was alone. My siblings had all gone home days before. My husband was out of town. My children were in school. It was my responsibility to usher her from this world to the next. "Marty, will you help lift her into my arms as I lay beside her?" I asked, choking back the river of emotion.
I held her and brushed her hair from her face. I reminisced about the memories she had so lovingly given us all. I thanked her for giving me the gift of life, for being my mother, my friend, my mentor. I told her that not a day would pass that I wouldn't miss her, but that today she would be free of the prison that her body had become. In some small way I hoped I could find peace in that. I asked her to wait for me at heaven's gate when my time came and walk with me into my next life. I kissed, told her how beautiful she was to me and a single teardrop rolled down her cheek. "I will be lucky to be half the woman you are momma. I love you" and her eyes drifted away as the breath left her being for the last time. As the tears subsided, the compassionate hand of numb shock came over me and I set about making all the calls and plans that was my responsibility....the burn still present but somehow not as crushing.
It was a blessing and a curse to be the one to share her passing. I am grateful I had that chance to tell her the things I wanted to say, appreciative that she was not alone as many are in their final moments, but each time I reflect back on that day I can see her face as if it was happening in the present. I can see her leaving me, powerless to change the outcome. I hope in some small way I have expressed the gravity of our mortality and the time we take for granted that slips so quickly by. We have a finite number of years to walk this earth and it can indeed be too late to say, do, accomplish those things we desire. Tomorrow may not be here. We may not be here. Our loved ones may not be here. That lonely old man in front of you at the grocery store may not be here. Why not leave each day a little brighter and those you meet a little better for having known you.
Peace to all......and love....