Monday, October 13, 2008

What we do reflects who we are . . .

The most vivid memories of my mother involve her doing things, because Mom was all about doing. Forget planning or organizing, Mom just wanted to go out and do it, whatever it was: touring about Amish country, picking up seashells on the beach, making fudge on a heavy marble slab, cooking meals for someone, digging in her garden--whatever need arose, or, when she had a minute to spare, whatever struck her fancy.

In a letter to my Grandmother, dated October 23, 1997, she wrote the following:

"Dear Mom: The other day I was wondering what impact I would have on my children. I decided that really the only impact I can have is the same as the impact others have had on me. It is never what people preach about, is it? Each person's legacy comes from the things that person has loved and given his or her life to. Those loves leave an indelible impression."

My mother's loves left an indelible impression on me: her deep and abiding faith, her love of nature, and most of all her acts of kindness and simple service.

I love the sentiment expressed in the phrase "Love is a verb." Love means nothing in the abstract. Even the phrase "I love you," means nothing unless we show it through action. Mom understood that, and filled her life with expressions of love: to her children, her husband, her friends, even people she barely knew.

I recall a woman in our church congregation who died unexpectedly. In life, the woman was (to put it nicely) hard to love. She could be demanding, ungrateful, and intensely critical, even of those who tried to reach out to her in friendship. When she died, however, my mother and a friend went to the funeral home, dressed her body, and took the time to carefully paint her fingernails because "that's what she would have wanted."

I remember studying philosophy in high school and coming home to announce to my mother that I'd been presented with the notion that "there's no such thing as a selfless act" and felt inclined to agree. "After all," I reasoned, "Don't we always expect something in return: a good feeling, a kindness, a reward in heaven?" "Have you ever loved someone without any expectation of return?" I asked, disbelieving. "Sure," she replied, "That's what being a mother is all about."

As a parent myself now, I appreciate that sentiment in a way that I could not fully comprehend then. I also realize, as my mother realized, that all the "preaching" in the world means little when compared to the power of example. People remember what we do far more than what we say, and where and how we choose to spend our time--what we "give our lives to"--says a lot about who we really are and the kind of influence we will have today and the kind legacy we will leave tomorrow.

I'm grateful for a mother who loved and served and devoted her life to things that mattered.

Thanks, Mom.