To Kishore: Happy 25th

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The Maui sun is beginning to set, a lazy and glowing orb descending over the shimmery sapphire waves of the Pacific.  The palm trees lining the shoreline sway rhythmically, taunting and teasing the trade winds that, even in their late afternoon fervor, are no match for sturdy, mature trunks.

 

As I write this, you are stretched out beside me, tinkering with some modifications to a software program you’re writing.  We are lounging, laptops in our respective laps, on a plushy dual-occupancy chaise.  We spent the day trekking up to the stunning Haleakala National Park and biking down from the top, a day full of joy, exhilaration and, of course, a few fleeting moments of tense annoyance.  All in all, a great day.  Beautiful memories made, gorgeous pictures taken – photos that will recall the details of the experience when we share the highlights of our trip with the kids upon our return.

 

Every few moments, I remind you to look up and take in the pristine sight in front of us.  You look up, your eyes squint as you welcome the bright orange rays and, after a few seconds of lingering your smiling gaze at me, you go back to your work.

 

Today, we have a milestone of some serious import:  our 25th anniversary.  To honor and commemorate, to celebrate and savor, we came to the island that hosted our honeymoon 25 years ago.  The occasion begs a comparison of our life, our relationship, our marriage, our selves – then and now.  Lessons we’ve learned, mistakes we’ve made, challenges we’ve overcome, joys we’ve been blessed with:  all pieces of the mosaic that is our life together.  A union formed as our two individual lives became inextricably linked on a June day in 1992.

 

We have changed through the years in countless ways.  Some of those changes were inevitable and products of the natural evolution of growing, maturing persons moving through various stages of life; some were born from our efforts to fulfill the other’s needs or those of our blossoming family.  Regardless of the impetus, we changed and grew.  Recalling our 25 yr-old selves through my almost 50 yr-old eyes, wisdom, and heart is nothing short of remarkable.

 

Our younger selves were confident they knew what love meant, that they fully comprehended what it required, and that they completely appreciated what it provided.  We thought being in love was enough and that “in love” simply meant caring about the other deeply, wanting to always be with them, and looking forward to growing old with them.  We thought it required kindness, compromise, and patience.  We thought it provided companionship, comfort, and a partner in all things.  We just didn’t fathom the depth or extent to which any of this must exist.

 

Our older selves know so much more.  We know truly caring for someone goes beyond the noun of feeling and extends to the verb of action.  Caring – when they’re ill, when they’re struggling, when they’re hurting.  It means putting our own needs aside for the time being and making them the priority.  It means not considering what you want to do, but being mindful of what you need to do.  It means not seeing each act of selflessness as sacrifice or a tally on a scoreboard but instead realizing it is part and parcel of honoring your lifelong commitment.

 

Our older selves know that love requires the ability to forgive, a sincere effort to forget small grievances, a promise to treat the other with the utmost respect and big-heartedness, an acknowledgement that, on occasion, we’re each working on a steep learning curve.

 

Our older selves know that love provides an immense sense of unconditional friendship, a source of shared joy in every accomplishment and blessing, a soft place to fall when failure or loss rears its unwelcome head, a refuge during times of self-doubt and heartache.

 

Our older selves know the joy and gratitude that come from building a life together, based on a foundation of devotion and love, is unmatched and priceless.  Our older selves cherish the idea that marriage is the best kind of work and the payoff is limitless.

 

Our older selves know the singular bliss of bringing life into this world, borne of love and hope, and raising those precious beings together.  We know the immeasurable joy of shepherding our unique, beloved spirits through the world as they grow into their own perfect selves.  We delight in each of their accomplishments and milestones; we assuage their disappointments and sorrows.  Only we know the intense love the other feels for these three amazing souls who embody pieces of our hearts as they navigate through the outside world.

 

Our older selves know that the other’s shoulder and arms are all that have gotten us through the unimaginable heartache and loss that life has brought.  We have faith in each other that our commitments extend to our friends/families in time of need, and we will work together to be there.

 

Our older selves know that sacrifices need to be made and disappointments must be endured occasionally for the sake of family.  In those times, sincere appreciation for what the other has relinquished serves as a healing balm for egos and personal regrets.

 

Our older selves know that it is not enough to say “I love you.”  We know that such love must manifest in a prioritizing of that person above everybody and everything else.  We know that it is a promise, declaring to others:  It is to this person that I will be true, loyal, and amenable.

 

Our older selves know that being a partner in this exceptional journey of parenthood means protecting the sanctity of our nuclear family.  Not at the expense of others, but with the unapologetic understanding that this is how it should be.  We know that our choices and decisions may not be easy or agreeable to all parties, but only a limited number of opinions genuinely matter or warrant consideration.  We honor this imperative and respect it in others.

 

Young, idealistic romantics Kishore & Hiral had a lovely honeymoon here in Maui.  But older and wiser Kishore & Hiral are having a much more authentic stay.  We have taken stock of our treasures:  our vast experiences, the hurdles we’ve crossed, the precious blessings with which we’ve been gifted, and all the lessons learned.

 

Well, the sun has now set.  A gorgeous little package of a day, and I love the fact that this time it was you who reminded me to look up and take it all in.

 

Happy 25th Anniversary, my love.  The years have been beautiful and complicated, with moments of sheer joy and heart-wrenching tears.  More than anything else, though, they’ve been full of love, devotion, and our precious family – I couldn’t ask for anything more.  Thank you for being by my side through it all.

 

XXOO

 

 

 

 

His big, beautiful world.

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We take our place in line, sitting side-by-side in black metal chairs along the wall.  On our left is a mother, scrolling steadily on her cell phone, presumably waiting for her teen to get back from the road test.  On our right is a father nestled in between his twin daughters.  He is partially hidden behind swathes of caramel brown hair and pale freckled arms as one of his girls reaches across her dad to share a hilarious snapchat with the other.

I am nervous, frequently standing up to pace a few steps back and forth before I sit back down next to my 16 yr-old son, realizing it is probably unnerving for a kid about to take his driver’s test to sense his mom’s uncertainty.  I pace because I am nervous, but only because I want so badly for him to pass it.  I know he’s practiced and ready; I also know he’s anxious (possibly because it took him three tries to pass the written test).  And, of course, there are other reasons for my anxiety which are just as obvious but more difficult to articulate to him:  my youngest child is about to become a licensed driver.  A driver.  Out there.  In the big, big world.

As I scan the large, ill-defined central space of the DMV, I notice a little boy in a blue t-shirt, khaki shorts, and brown sandals.  He sits cross-legged in a chair almost directly across from my son, who is wearing grey from top to bottom.  The little boy is quietly playing on an IPad as he patiently waits for his mother who is just an arm’s length away in the line adjacent to him.  She peers over at him every so often.  He looks up and gives her a broad, proud smile after what surely must be a word or two of praise from her for sitting and waiting so nicely.  There’s a small red car in his lap which he periodically rolls up and down the arm of his chair, taking his eyes off the IPad screen only briefly, long enough to watch the car land safely back in his lap.

My mind’s eye sees a different little boy – not a care in the world, fully present, in the moment.  This one has dark brown hair instead of blonde and is missing his front two teeth.  My eyes start tearing up as I recall when his world – our family’s world – was small, simple, and contained, entirely in familiar and well-defined spaces.  It was our home, our car, the kids’ school, the park, the library, a few good friends’ homes.  That’s it.  That little boy and his sisters were never far from my arm’s reach, always at the table for dinner, each safely tucked in every night, and all three snuggled in under the covers with me on many a lazy, blissful morning.

The world around which that boy’s path now orbits, which is already bigger than it used to be, is about to become even more expansive.  Over time, a driver’s license will allow for more freedoms and privileges, farther destinations, new adventures and experiences – the awareness of parental supervision armed with the Find My IPhone app notwithstanding.  There will be hangout sessions after-school, grabbing dinner after tennis practice, study sessions at Starbucks, movies and concerts on the weekends.  There will be new ways for his life to get more exciting but also more complicated, more reasons and situations for me to celebrate but also fear.  His world will get bigger.  My hold on him will get more precarious.

His sisters have trained and prepared me for this moment, having safely and confidently expanded their own realms.  Thankfully, they staggered their milestones over several years, allowing me time and emotional space to process those singular moments.  Those moments are wonderful, full of pride and gratitude, yet riddled with apprehension.  They got their drivers’ licenses, broadened their horizons, graduated high school, and left for college.  My oldest, just to put an exclamation point on her claim of independence, left the country to study abroad for an entire semester.  I have grown right along with them.  Of course I did.  What choice did I have?  What choice do I have now?  Though it hasn’t been easy or without its share of drama, would I prefer anything to play out differently given the choice?  Of course not, but as they continue to step further and further out into the world, joy and excitement come hand-in-hand with trepidation and, yes, a little bit of heartache.  I am thrilled that these precious parts of my heart are thriving and moving forward, and I must accept that they will need me that much less.

They call my son for his road test.  I quietly wish him luck and tousle his hair for good measure, reaching up to do so since he towers 6 inches over me these days.  He walks off with the instructor, calm and confident.

I sit down and turn my gaze back to the smaller incarnation of my almost-new-driver.  He is still playing on his IPad and holding onto his toy car, but he’s squirming around more in his chair, appearing restless and running out of patience, perhaps.  His mom is sitting next to him now, filling out some forms.  She reaches out to cuddle him, brings him close to her, gives him sweet kisses on his forehead.  Her attempt to buy more time works – he decides to simply spread out across a few chairs and rest his head in his mom’s lap.  His shoulders melt under her arms and he appears sublimely content for the moment.  She continues her task.  He is there, in her lap, snuggled into his safe place and all is well with both of them.

When my son was in preschool, he would give me an exuberant bear hug each afternoon when I’d pick him up.  He’d run right for my legs and wrap his arms tightly around them, shifting his own body side to side to make me sway a bit.  It was as if he was trying with all of his might to squeeze all of the joy and excitement from his arms into me.  Then, I’d lean down and scoop him up in my arms, he’d wrap his little chunky legs around my waist, and we’d snuggle like that for a treasured few minutes, rocking back and forth, before he’d bust out of my embrace and begin telling me all about his day.  He was there, in my arms, snuggled safe, and all was well.

My dreamy memories are interrupted by a lanky kid approaching in my periphery.  I turn to see he is wearing grey and smiling ear to ear, relief and satisfaction beaming from his bright brown eyes.  One more step forward and outward from the secure, familiar circle of home and family.  But, like his sisters, he is brave and capable.  This is exactly how it’s supposed to be.  All is well.  And now it’s my turn to give the exuberant bear hug.

Two days later, we are at a theme park with a couple of his buddies.  After hours of roller coasters and zippy, spinning rides, the boys have decided to explore a climbing adventure area.  They find themselves a maze of rope walkways, rocking wood bridges, and rope swings.  At the end, they see a miniaturized version of that maze that’s presumably for young children who are too afraid or too small for the larger one.  Before I know it, three 16 yr-olds boys, all gangly arms and legs, are climbing all over it, pretending to stumble and struggle to get through it as they laugh hysterically.

Somedays, it seems even he wants to still be my little boy.

A Vote Against Empathy.

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In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was fifteen years old and a sophomore in high school.

He was sitting towards the back but I saw him rise as I scanned for an open seat.  He was expressionless beyond his usual smirk.  I didn’t know him.  He and his friends were always in the back and usually boisterous.

My arms were full – a stack of books in one, and my violin case in the other.  As I approached the first empty seat next to a familiar face, I heard his voice, harsh and uncomfortably close.

“Hey, she’s a refugee! Refugee, why don’t you go back where you came from?”

His loud, careless chuckling echoed off the school bus roof.  It grew to a cacophony as his crew of ruffians joined in.

Humiliation crept over my face, anger swelled inside, and hot tears filled my eyes.  I fumbled with my things to adjust myself in my seat, attempted to make myself smaller, invisible.  I focused my eyes downward as a torrid mix of embarrassment and rage rose within.

He stood next to me, held his hand over my head with one nasty finger pointed down.

“Here she is!  The refugee.”

Like pointing out a criminal or unsavory creature trying to make off as a legitimate member of society, he identified me as someone worthy of contempt and ridicule.

His hate-filled laughter filled my ears and terrified me.  My heart raced in panic until, mercifully, the driver instructed him to get back to his seat as the bus began to move.

In the silence around me, the awful reality of the moment set in.  I had no vocal allies.  Some had even joined in the snickering.  Not one single person on that bus refuted his name-calling or denounced his offensive behavior.  Not even the one adult in our presence.  The kid was a crass bully and most of those I considered friends then probably feared retribution.  Nevertheless, I looked around, and I was utterly alone.

I sat there for the remainder of the 20-minute ride home, cowering inside and shamed, with an endless stream of tears coalescing into a large dark stain on the brown paper cover of the book in my lap.  Shaking and despondent, I felt broken into a thousand tiny pieces.

His stop was before mine.  Before he got off he had one final act of denigration to deliver.  He struck a book on the top of my head as he passed by and repeated his directive:

“Go home, you ugly refugee.  Get out.”

Howls of foul laughter permeated my brain until the doors were firmly shut and the bus pulled away.  They echoed in my wounded heart for years after.

After we were off the bus, a few kids tried to comfort me.  They told me he was awful, he was an idiot, and that I should just ignore him.

I should ignore the hate, the humiliation, the name-calling, the physical assault.

As I walked home from my bus-stop, the indignation was unbearable.  In the safe haven of my room, I collapsed into a humiliated pool of unending sobs.  Though my brother tried valiantly to assuage my fears and temper my pain, it was only after my mother came home and cradled me, reassuring me repeatedly that she would deal with this abhorrent bully and ensure his vitriol would never affect me again, that I was able to be calmed.  Even now, as I write this, the tears flow for that terrorized, quivering 15-year old girl.

He was a tall, white kid, a full grade ahead of me.  I was a petite, Indian girl and the only non-white in the school at the time.  It was bullying on many levels.  He hurt me, physically and emotionally.  He made me feel as though I didn’t belong – on my bus, in my town, in my country.

My mother and the school principal made sure he never spoke or came into physical contact with me again.  But he was never punished by the school.  He never apologized to me.  He continued to be brazen and cocky, and never exhibited the slightest hint of remorse.  I’m sure he went on to bully others, though never in my presence.

I was infinitely grateful when, on the first day of the following school year, I saw him exit his car in the school parking lot.  He never rode the bus again.

And no one outside my immediate family ever said a word about it again.

We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  ~ Elie Wiesel

 Fast forward 33 years.  Our country has elected a man whose entire platform was built on the vicious rhetoric of demagoguery and the subjugation of many peoples.  The impact of his nefarious attempts to appeal to divisions of race, religion, gender, and class has already proven dangerous.

This is not a teenage bully on a school bus.  This is a man who will wield unimaginable power as the next President of the United States of America.  Yet, he has ostracized, insulted, and dehumanized huge swaths of the American citizenry.  He is a bully of epic and treacherous proportions.

Some enjoy the privilege or ability to overlook all of his horrendous actions and words.  My convictions do not allow me that privilege.  My experiences do not allow me that ability.  My empathy did not allow me to validate his candidacy, nor will it allow me to ignore that which threatens my fellow human beings, regardless of whether it affects me.

I will not stand by.  I will not remain silent.  I will speak up.  I will let them know they are not alone.  As I have learned firsthand, silence serves only to embolden those who denigrate or marginalize another.

Needless to say, I did not face the worst form of racism or the most heinous bullying a kid could be subjected to.  That didn’t lessen the fear that struck my soul that day, or the venomous hatred of which I was the target, or the abject stupidity and prejudice that motivated such reckless tormenting.  My empathy is not borne of identical experiences but rather an understanding of another’s pain.

For millions of my fellow Americans, that pain has manifested much more profoundly than I have ever endured.  What I’ve experienced in my lifetime doesn’t compare to the discriminations my parents faced.  In turn, their affronts are minor snubs compared to the prejudices faced by so many who’d been marginalized in our society.  Now, Hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, disabled persons, veterans, gold star families, LGBTQ Americans, and, of course, women –  are all targets of their own president-elect’s denigration and disparagement.  They are all at risk of further oppression and disenfranchisement.

I won’t repeat his heinous words here – a simple Google search will provide ample evidence.  I won’t debate policy, although, quite honestly, that would be a brief debate given his simplistic platform.  I won’t debate intellect.  I won’t even debate truthfulness.  None of that is relevant to what truly aches in my core.

What is entirely relevant is this:  Every American who voted for this president-elect made a conscious choice when they supported his candidacy.  A choice to either ignore or tolerate or excuse or embrace the unbearably vile components central to his campaign.  This is not opinion, this is fact.

A vote for a candidate is an implicit endorsement of that candidate’s policies.  The voter and candidate may not be perfectly aligned.  There may be some disagreements but, on the whole, it is a plain stamp of approval.  Disagreeing but voting = endorsement = approval.  It really is that simple.

Fascist stances were synonymous with this president-elect’s platform.  The more vocal of his supporters reflected these defining traits during rallies as they took special pride in his various declarations:  build a wall! Mexicans are rapists! deport immigrants! dreamers must go! refugees are terrorists! ban all Muslims! subjugate African Americans! inner city youth are criminals! stop and frisk! beat up protesters! defile and oppress women!

The less vocal merely voted for him.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
~ Desmond Tutu

Once the president-elect’s candidacy appeared viable, millions of Americans began to fear what their lives might look like under the America he proposed.  They were enraged and terrified.  This was not the America they knew.  They looked to their fellow Americans – those who were safe and insulated from this man’s prejudicial, hateful proposals – to speak out against these grievances.  They desperately hoped that oppression towards one would be seen as oppression towards all. 

Some folks spoke up against the atrocious hate and divisiveness, and millions are grateful for their solidarity and empathy.  But far too many remained silent.

Ironically, many of those who were silent are now enraged and indignant.  As they see it, they are being unfairly maligned for voting for him.  They counter that they didn’t necessarily like or agree with the foul, inflammatory rhetoric but supported him for other reasons.  They claim they looked beyond all of it because other issues were of greater importance.

To those folks, I ask you to sincerely contemplate for a moment what that actually means.  You were able to put aside the existential threats to tens of millions of your fellow human beings because you saw them only as abstract concerns that had no tangible impact on your lives.

That is a privilege endowed to few.

You tolerated the attacks on Mexicans and immigrants, the sexual assaults and rampant misogyny, the demonization of Syrian refugees, the banning of Muslims, the anti-Semitic comments, the explicit ties to white supremacy, the calls to violence, the dehumanizing of inner city youth, the insults towards a Gold Star family, the mocking of a disabled person, the trivializing of veterans’ service, the threats towards the LGBTQ community.

Now you’re infuriated because others are angry with you for supporting a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic autocrat.  Have you ever considered how long and how deeply those who’ve been targeted by said autocrat, and by the policies he seeks to perpetuate, have been infuriated?

You looked away.  You remained silent.  You betrayed your fellow human beings because you simply couldn’t, or didn’t, empathize with them.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Is it really that hard to imagine what it must feel like:

for a child to worry her undocumented parents might be taken away while she is at school?

for a black man to fear for his rights with white supremacists in his own government?

for a woman to dread being sexually assaulted by a man in power?

for a DREAMer to fear being sent back to a country she has never called home?

for a Muslim man to shudder at the idea of his family being blacklisted?

for a same-sex couple to fear their marriage will be dissolved?

for a woman to worry if she’ll be imprisoned for having an abortion?

for a person to hear their future president insult and threaten them?

Is it really that hard to imagine what it must feel like for a brown girl to be scared to ride the bus home from school?

Sometimes, life demands we speak up on another’s behalf.  Sometimes, life demands we stand up for another.  Sometimes, life demands empathy.

Empathy would have made all the difference to a scared, 15-year old Indian girl who was bullied on a school bus.  And it would have made all the difference to millions of our fellow Americans who have been disparaged or threatened with persecution by their newly-elected president.

My Ma’s Legacy

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Shortly before I had my first child, my mother retired from her career as a social worker.  She decided to focus her life then on being a grandmother.  For over a decade, she had been the director of the Merrick House Senior Center, a position she ascended to after years of working in both the public and nonprofit sector.  Previously, she had been the Outreach Program Director of the same nonprofit.  She had earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology, and during my teen years, she earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work.  That path led to the job that brought her absolute purpose and joy, to what she was undeniably meant to do.  Over her years as a social worker, she had experience working with several diverse populations, but her heart was always with the aged.  Ultimately, helping them gave her the greatest sense of fulfillment.

When my mom was in graduate school, I routinely edited her research papers.  I made dozens of red marks on the pages, correcting grammar and spelling – after all, English was her second language – but there was never an issue with content or format.  She knew how to present her thesis, back it up with a strong analysis of the issues, and lead the reader to a sound conclusion and proposed plan.

In those papers, she advocated for more outreach, more accessibility, less bureaucracy, and effective policy reform in the social work arena.  Being the naïve teenager I was, I wondered what all the controversy could possibly be about, given we were talking about ensuring people had food on their tables, good health care, social services, financial security.  Weren’t these all a given, for everyone?  Much to my consternation, I learned they were not.

When it came to stature and size, my mother was fairly typical for a woman of Indian descent – a modest 5’4” and weighing 120#.  Here was this petite, soft-spoken, brown woman driving through ramshackle neighborhoods on her way to the senior center in one of the poorest areas of Cleveland.  She oversaw a program that offered companionship, comfort, and resources to countless elderly residents, many of whom were chronically ill, all of whom were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  They were white and black, male and female, living near family and living alone.  She welcomed them all, each and every day, proud and grateful to be able to provide them some respite from the arduous challenges of their daily lives.

On many a summer vacation day, I’d accompany my mom to the center.  I “volunteered” my services, as she’d like to say, although I don’t remember it being completely voluntary at the time.  As soon as I walked into the senior center, though, and saw the tender delight on the elderly folks’ faces as they greeted me, my grumpiness at being dragged out of bed so early on a perfectly lazy summer day would fade.  They said they were energized by having a “young person” around.  After embracing me warmly, they’d turn to my mom and thank her for bringing me around now and then to lift their spirits.

I’d spend those days playing bingo, leading stretching exercises, and listening to stories of the Depression and World Wars.  There would be lunch to serve, craft projects to help with, and, on occasion, square dances and polkas to take part in.  Pretty much everything the average teenager wouldn’t normally be caught dead doing.  And I loved it.

On those special days, I learned so much about my mom I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known.  I saw her in a light different than I’d seen in our life together elsewhere.  She wasn’t different as much as she was more intensely herself.  Her selfless, devoted being was magnified and I was humbled to witness it all.

She was a compelling force of advocacy in those people’s lives – fighting relentlessly for continued Meals On Wheels service to their homes, access to regular medical care, Ride Sharing to doctors’ appointments, assistance with Medicare/Social Security bureaucracy, and the assurance of necessary resources to alleviate the hardships of their age-related limitations.

The compassion I’d known as a daughter was evident in her interactions with those folks.  Whether she was helping someone through the process of finding home health care for their spouse, or comforting someone who was missing their grandkids living across the country, she generously offered her sincere warmth, affection, and empathy.  Her hugs were legendary and her smile lit up an entire room.  She laughed with them, cried with them, celebrated with them, and mourned with them.  And, sadly, there were times when she had to say goodbye to them.

Without realizing it then, I also learned so much from my mom in those interactions.  Years later, when I was a medical student going through my clinical rotations, many of the patients I cared for were of advanced age.  I tried my best to implement what I learned from her in my own caregiver-patient interactions.  I sat closer to them and spoke slowly when taking histories because I knew many of them were hard of hearing.  I repeatedly explained in layman’s terms the indication for each of their medications because they often forgot or were confused by the medical jargon.  I made sure to get a social services consult to properly assess the safety of their home situations and their access to outreach programs in their communities.  I held their hands and asked them about their families, and I did these things with patience and kindness.  I continued these practices in residency and my career as an ED physician.  These were lessons taught to me not by my medical school professors, but by my mother, the social worker.

I learned the importance of compassion:  it wasn’t enough to sympathize with someone, you needed to contemplate what life was like in their shoes.  Saying “I’m sorry for your problem” wasn’t adequate.  She consistently followed that up with “Here’s what we’re going to do about it.”  Genuinely caring about someone meant you were in their struggle with them, they weren’t alone.  She never turned anyone away, and she was the first to offer her home, her time, her resources to another in need.

I learned the importance of giving voice to those who were marginalized, forgotten, or voiceless.  Given her nature, it wasn’t surprising she went into social work.  It was intuitive for her to ask clients what they needed, what they valued, what their fears were, what their hopes were.  Letting their problems go by the wayside was never an option – she used all of her knowledge, skill set, networks, and resources to demand communities and government agencies acknowledge these elderly folks and take action to make their lives better.  She realized that she and the senior center were, for many, their only lifelines.

I learned the importance of making sure one’s own voice is heard and accounted for.  She never shied away from speaking up, particularly if she felt anyone had been unjustly treated.  Even when it would have been easy to remain quiet, and no one would have faulted her for it, she spoke her words of dissension with thoughtful, respectful debate.  She fought for her role in the social work community in Cleveland, for her Master’s Degree, and for her position at the nonprofit.  She taught me to always speak up for myself, to be my own best advocate.  Her wisdom was echoed recently by a Congresswoman at a Women’s Voting Rights Act celebration:  If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.

I learned the importance of staying true to one’s values and principles.  There were countless times when it would have been the path of less resistance to accommodate another’s agenda.  But my mother wouldn’t have it.  She remained steadfast with her values and, although I considered her stubborn and rigid at times, I eventually realized the significance of her integrity.  She never wavered on who she was, what she believed in, or her sense of right and wrong, regardless of whether her stance was popular or easy.  She applied those principles to her work every day.  Her clients knew she’d fight for them and, as a result, their faith in her was abiding.

This and so much more, I learned from my mother.  She often chose to do what was hard because it genuinely made a difference for others.  Her commitment to serving others impacted more than her social work clients.  It impacted everyone who had the privilege of knowing her.

Today is the 15th anniversary of her passing, so it feels incredibly apropos that I will honor her memory by partaking in civic action.  If my mom saw a need for change, she considered herself as good as anyone to begin the process.  She dedicated her professional life to helping the elderly population of Cleveland lead better, more hopeful lives.  She dedicated her personal life to helping her family and friends lead better, more hopeful lives.  For a few hours tonight (and for many hours in the weeks to come), I will work on behalf of another woman – one who has dedicated her life to public service – to gain the position and power to continue on that singular, remarkable mission.

As a tribute to Ma’s legacy of good works, it is fitting that I do what I can to ensure that the progress made up to this point in this great country of ours – by people just like my mother – is not diminished or reversed.  I think she’d be thrilled for several reasons.

That we lovingly carry her memory with us always.

That we have ensured it will live on in her grandchildren.

That our country might soon have our first (and eminently qualified!) female president.

And that, over all those years, I was actually paying attention.

Ma ~ I love and miss you.  XXOO