Today would be my mother’s 75th birthday. She died 5 years ago from complications associated with multiple myeloma, a devastating cancer (is there any other kind?). But how she died doesn’t interest me today, its how she lived that does.
The internet is full of people trying to change the world and a lot of them are doing it in big ways, and I’m thrilled for them – I want to be one of them. But when it comes to my heroes in making a difference, my mother ranks at the top of the list.
She didn’t make any headlines, mind you, but every day of her life was devoted to other people – her children, her sister, her extended family and friends, and any random stranger she met on a train. My mother was terribly shy her whole life (not a good quality for a former beauty queen),
but more than anything else, she loved people. All people regardless of their circumstances. She would don an elegant evening gown for a charity event as quickly as she’d join a friend from the coffee shop as he marched in drag for gay pride.
Her favorite place has to have been the airport. She loved going to them and watching people reunite with their loved ones (sometimes you had to drag her out of there, if she’d spied someone waiting, but hadn’t witnessed the reunion). She loved being outdoors and going to movies and getting lost in a good book. Besides spicy food and getting her hair wet, there actually wasn’t much that she didn’t like.
And unless something went terribly wrong, she never missed a family event. My many cousins and their families kept her busy with school plays and graduations, but she loved every second of it and each of them wholeheartedly.
In my mother’s efforts to connect with as many people as possible in as meaningful a way as possible, she devoted much of her energy to volunteer work – the Red Cross, the local hospital, issues of homelessness, any cause that was specifically directed towards bringing more to those with less was of particular importance for her.
She had my sister and me in Candy Striper uniforms as soon as we were old enough (and oh, did we like those uniforms, I still have mine). From that early start, both my sister and I have become lifelong volunteers. Our causes aren’t necessarily the same as our mother’s, but we both feel that we’d rather spend our free time helping in a community garden or delivering meals to homebound folks or wondering the park with gloved hands and a garbage bag rather than rub shoulders at a swanky event with people who are integral to the effort, but are still somewhat divorced from its reality. (although I do love a dress up party on the right day as well).
My mother believed, and I believe, that everyone deserves respect, understanding, and opportunity, all delivered without judgement. But she was no martyr. She would be the first to tell you that the rewards of her efforts far outweighed the effort. She made friends, learned new skills, and spent an awful lot of her time engaged in her most favorite activity – laughing with others!
That is quite a legacy!
For volunteer opportunities that suit every interest, visit VolunteerMatch.