Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He'll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we'll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother's death bed she asked me "Did I make a difference?" She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren't filled with hate, or born of ignorance. 
My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his 'sunshine.' Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She loved to dance, especially with my dad, and they were grace in motion. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father's melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even want to be, but wasn't. She was childlike in many ways however, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments her expression became sadder and sadder, and my "turn that frown upside down" mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give but she realized her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.
Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.


Anonymous said...

"Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom?"

So the only "everyday heroes" are the ones who have chosen to reproduce?

J. Cafesin said...

Anonymous (K),
Heros aren't exclusive to parents. My mom is one of mine so I chose to honor her in this piece.

Pick your own hero, someone that touched you, that made a difference in your life.

Laura Sherman said...

It is true that we can all make a difference. And we do, one way or another each and every day.

If you smile at someone, you most likely make a difference in their life. They may just smile at someone else, passing on that gift of pleasure.

If you choose to be grumpy at someone (and yes, you are choosing to display that emotion), most likely it will also have an effect.

Thank you for your article!

Dr Linda Galloway said...

This was very moving. We are blessed to have had mothers who made a difference and who loved us.

MacBeth25 said...

Making a difference. I think we all hope we can make a difference. One way is to save lives by donating blood. That's a simple and relatively safe way to be a hero -- if one description of a hero is someone who saves a life. One pint of blood can save up to three lives according to the Florida Georgia Blood Alliance. We can also make a difference by example. I only hope I have given a good one in my 68 years, so far, and I hope, if I have, that I can continue to do so. Irish Blessings Upon You All.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding to my discussion on Networked Blogs discussion board.
Lovely post...I am following you here.

Goodluck to you!

J. Cafesin said...

Thanks Nehha! I'll check you out!

Lisa Dale said...

This absolutely brought tears to my eyes. Such perspective. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a loving tribute to your mother, but even more, I loved your irritation that only the famous, or minorly famous, get "ink." I would love to see my high school speech and debate coach get accolades and celebrity for the way he wandered into my life, knew something was wrong but couldn't figure out what, and just made himself available if I needed someone.

I am 47 and we are still in each others' lives. He recently wrote to me that he had left me off of a list of emails he had sent to close friends and he was appalled when he discovered his error.

I got teary at the years of trust and caring that represented.

Your mother made a difference and so did/does my coach. And because we write about them, others will know, and they will have their deserved 15 minutes, even if it is only among family and friends.

As a poet I love writing poems about people who never expect to be the subject of a poem. It is God's grace that my life partner is such a poet as well. We may never become famous, but we will have brightened lives, and is that not what truly matters?

Love and blessings,

Dr. Ni

Anonymous said...

May I share one of the many poems I wrote about my mother? She died in her 71st year; I did not know how ill she was when I wrote this poem.

AT 71

seventy, ill
in bed she lays unmoving
days pass without her bustling at the sink
dressed to the nines
stockings on feet
in bed she lays uncomplaining
at the border of sleep,
did you say you needed money?

a day later
we insist on doctor’s appointment
doctor insists on ER.
questioned, examined,
abdomen CATscanned
tired, she crosses an exhausted knee
turns an ashen foot
puts on, pulls up
wears hose girdle bra camisole
underneath soft suede pantsuit
in ER.

not vanity, grace—
all that is left of 1932
new baby chastized for illegitimacy.
neither posing nor preening
simply herself
in underwear with a hole in them.
i chose the suede.
in a dressing room
robinson’s may
she said i brought too much,
it could not all be for her.

i, ungainly, 400 pounds
she, always petite,
shows me possibility.
as i rush from my apartment
no lotion
braids dry
this quiet spectacle flashes:
i help her dress once the doctors finish
they send her home with antibiotics
iv fluids
a vein that bleeds too readily

and it is i who watch her dress
she rarely leaning on me
though weakness saps her strength
she puts on the hose the girdle the Bali bra
at 71 and counting.


Love and blessings,

Dr. Ni

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I needed that. Moms and teachers are two of my absolute favorite subjects. And do we have to reproduce to be a hero? No, but the ones who do it well are heroic in my book.