The Real Measure of a Life Well Lived

Annie Azzariti - Santa Monica, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, April 27, 2012
Annie Azzariti

After her mother died, Annie Azzariti and her siblings sorted through the family mementos she had collected over the years. The treasures they found reminded Azzariti of the beautiful life their mother lived, and the depth of her love for her children.

Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, legacy, love

My mother passed away recently. She left behind no awards, no large inheritance, no monuments to achievement as the world might define the total of a person’s life. What she did leave my brother, sister, and me were memories of her love, bits of herself that remind us of who we are.

In the dark corners of her bedroom closet or under the paper lining of a drawer, she carefully tucked away her dreams for our future. I found the delicately crocheted infant outfit she had made for my baptism. There were letters and postcards I had sent and she had kept. We found photographs with names and dates and places written on the back, marking holidays and everyday events in our lives. She held on to every piece of jewelry we had ever given her. There were congratulatory telegrams and cards from her wedding day fifty-eight years ago mixed in with our academic awards and milestones in our careers.

Like a find from an archaeological dig, each relic we discovered opened me up to a new way of seeing my mother. Lucrezia Palmieri Azzariti was born and raised in Venice, Italy. After World War II, she started writing a second cousin named Frank who lived in New York. Six months later, they married by proxy, and my mother was soon on her way to America.

We were a traditional Italian American family: Mom stayed home while Dad worked hard to make ends meet. Their lives revolved around what they called their biggest accomplishment, their “three beautiful children.” For my mother, we were her purpose. As we grew up, she tenderly wrapped the artifacts of our childhood in her love and packed them away so she could hold them as part of her past until she left them to us as a legacy of ours. For me, finding these treasures decades later brought me back into her waiting arms.

I believe these items of apparently small significance are the real measure of a life well lived. In a noisy world where what’s hot and what’s not fill our media, these quiet, gentle discoveries sustain us. These small treasures mark her loving contribution to the world, and reflect back to us—both the small “us” of our family and the larger “us” of the world—our source of love for each other.

Few of us can create grand gestures to the larger society. Most of us live our days within a smaller world, one where we have the opportunities to create bonds of love with each other in ways that are quiet and often go unnoticed.

I believe that we shape our world with kindness and love of what we do in the simplest moments every day. It is ultimately what connects us to each other, no matter who we are or where we live. I believe that with each sweet stitch of my tiny baptismal gown, every old photo, and every scrap of paper, my mother was holding a tender place of love for all of us.

After five years of teaching first and second grades, Annie Azzariti decided to teach to a larger audience and wrangled a production assistant job in television. She has produced, directed, and written documentaries that tell compelling personal stories about life. Ms. Azzariti lives in Santa Monica, California.