“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m lucky. I was raised by broken people – I mean we all are. We’re all broken – every last magnificent, flawed one of us. But so many of us try to hide it – I do – showing my flaws is really hard for me. Not being perfect and in control every second is the most painful part of being alive for me – it’s a struggle – I’m working on it. There have been so many opportunities in my life where I’ve seen the majesty of imperfection, of royally screwing up – forgetting all the words to songs mid-performance, being run over by a car in my high school parking lot, overdrawing my checking account, running out of gas, not getting a job I wanted, falling down in public – once I fell off a bus in an evening gown. There have been a lot of moments when I was deeply imperfect and felt I had literally nothing to offer the world. In fact, several of my young adult years were spent feeling completely lost and useless. I had to get a reasonable distance from myself to finally remember what I had been shown my entire life – no matter how many times we screw up everyone has the ability to do something important.
My Bubbe was the center of our family (and pretty much my entire world) until her death in 2003. She was warm, loving, the most unbelievable cook, funny, open-minded, meticulous, accepting, a great listener, amazing storyteller, a hard-ass, highly judgmental, and demanding. And everyone worshiped her. She was not wealthy or formally educated – she was just a real person. You always knew where you stood with her. If she was mad at you – she told you. If something you said was ridiculous she made sure you were aware. Like the time she was chiding me for not visiting often enough and I said “But Bubbe you live so far away” and she responded “Not as far away as I will be when I’m dead!” She was right about that and I do wish we had spent more time together in her last months. I still miss her everyday.
Somehow, even though she lost her mother as a child and her father was not a nice man, her husband was diagnosed with schizophrenia soon after they were married, and she had to raise four children practically on her own – somehow she knew her own power. She was generous – even when she had little to give she welcomed people into her home, fed them, loved them, cared for their children, gave whatever she had to give to help lighten their burden.
My mother is the same way – though they are not related by blood (Bubbe is my father’s mother) they share this generosity of spirit. Mom was always taking in strays – most times they were animals but sometimes they were people and a few were my friends whose home lives were difficult and my mom welcomed them into the chaotic, messy fray of our home until fires were dampened and families could reconcile. She still does this – makes a lasagna for the young mechanics who recently fixed her car, inviting over a recently divorced single dad that she worked with to give him cooking lessons so he could cook for his kids, helping the single mom across the street suffering from mental illness, taking care of an elderly neighbor with no family.
These women have taught me compassion by example. Further, they taught me the most valuable lesson any person could ever learn that no matter how little we have and how little we think of ourselves – we possess great power. The power of a moment to listen, to ask a person how they are, a phone call, text message – offer to make a meal, volunteer time, bake some cookies, donate food, compliment someone’s earrings – it really doesn’t matter. When I spent time working with kids as an in-home clinician – kids who were at risk of being taken from their families and whose history was always traumatic – my focus was often on giving them the opportunity to do something for someone else. For some it might be counter intuitive – they are the kids who are most in need, right? True, but they are often kids who feel the most powerless and think they have nothing to offer. If they can feel the might that comes from doing for others they can see their own worth. Some of the most generous people I have ever encountered are those who have the least in terms of wealth or material possessions. They see the value of time and genuine concern for others.
Last week I went to a National Philanthropy Day luncheon where people were being honored for their years of service to the community both financially and through their time and dedication to organizations in our community. It drove home to me that even though my people didn’t necessarily have wings or buildings named for them they showed us the power of service. Their love for the people in their lives and at times people they didn’t know made a huge difference and they set an example for their children and grandchildren that the most powerful we can ever be is when we are in service to each other. I was inspired to tell you this.
Keep loving each other and know you have so much to offer this world.