This I Believe

Faith - The Colony, Texas
Entered on November 28, 2007

When we die, there is talk of what we leave behind. What is our legacy?

Part of Mom’s legacy is her four children.

I’m the youngest of the four. Our family is alphabetical. Dad is Alfred, Mom is Beverly, son Craig, daughter Debby, son Eric, and daughter Faith.

Mom told me that I’m F for Faith, but I’m also F for finis, finito, I’m done, no more.

But F really isn’t finis. Part of her legacy includes a G, and G is for grace.

When I think about the word grace, vague things come to my mind. I looked up grace, and found a lot of vague definitions. But as I thought about Mom, I found some concrete ways to define it for myself.

Grace can be style and charm.

Mom went to high school with Ted Sorensen in the 1940s in Lincoln, Nebraska. Sorensen was an adviser and speechwriter for John Kennedy when Kennedy was a senator and when he was president. Mom and Sorensen ran against each other for senior class president in high school. After the election, Mom talked to him and mentioned that of course she voted for him and he voted for her, right?, because that’s what candidates do in an election. He said no of course not, he voted for the best candidate, which he obviously was. He won the election by one vote.

Mom was a young teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1950s. In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered schools to integrate, but Governor Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to block the first nine African-American students from entering the first high school to integrate. Mom didn’t think much of Governor Faubus. Several years later, she was with a group of students on a school trip to the state capitol in Little Rock. Governor Faubus walked by, saw the group, and came over to say hello. He put his hand out to Mom. She thought for a split second, and then she took it and shook it. She made a conscious decision. Common human decency and courtesy won out over politics.

Grace can mean giving thanks.

When I was in college and then when I started working, I would mention an interesting idea or event or person I’d heard about, when I talked to Mom and Dad on the phone. Pretty soon I’d get an envelope from her, and it would have a newspaper clipping or a magazine article about whatever I had mentioned—and it would also have a note from her thanking me for teaching her something new.

In her last couple of months, Eric was sitting next to her bed holding her hand while she slept. He felt her hand move, as if she were writing. He woke her up and asked if she was dreaming about writing. She said yes. He asked what she was writing. She said, “thank you notes.” He asked who the notes were to. She said, “The nurses, and the techs, and the doctors, and the therapists, …”

Grace is finding ways to keep yourself interested no matter your situation.

As her Parkinson’s progressed and her muscle use decreased, she spent most of her time in a few places in her house. One day I came into the room she was in, sat down next to her, and she asked me, “have I shown you my little girl?” I said, “noooo,” thinking, “uh-oh, the dementia I’ve read about with Parkinson’s is finally kicking in,” and eyeing her suspiciously. She eyed me back, as if she read my mind, and then pointed to a pattern in a section of the carpet and showed me the girl’s nose, and her chin, and how her hair curled up at her neck.

Grace is thinking about others.

Mom came home from the hospital this summer. Hospital bed in the middle of the living room, oxygen tanks in the corner. Mom’s sister and I were both in town. The day after Mom got home, she asked for her sister to come up to the middle of the bed where Mom could see her. Dad, Deb, and I were around the foot of the bed. With some effort, she said, “donate as much of me as possible.” Deb, Dad, and I instantly get teary, while Auntie Sug very calmly says, “okay.” Then she says, “brain to Parkinson’s research.” Deb, Dad, and I instantly get teary, and Auntie Sug very calmly says, “okay.” I asked Mom why she wanted to tell Auntie Sug specifically. She said, “because I knew she wouldn’t cry.”

Later that day, Eric called and told us he was coming over, bringing dinner from a barbecue place. I went into the living room to talk to Mom and told her about the dinner plans. We just sat quietly for a few minutes, and then she said, “it’s just me.” I repeated back, “it’s just me?” She worked up more energy and said, “it’s just meat.” I thought maybe she was talking about donating her body, but I didn’t think she’d say it quite like that. I looked at her for minute, and then realized. “You’re talking about dinner.” She nods. “and Eric’s going to a barbecue place.” Nods. “and I’m a vegetarian.” Nods. “and you’re worried I’m not going to have anything for dinner because it’s just meat.” Nods.

What is grace?

Grace is voting for your opponent.

Grace is shaking hands with someone you don’t agree with.

Grace is giving people tasks you know they can handle.

Grace is thanks.

Grace is finding a little girl in a carpet.

Grace is putting people at ease.

Grace is Mom’s legacy and her hope for all of us.