|Ruthe and her firstborn 1950|
|Remembering Ruthe 2014|
I spent a long time looking for a yahrzeit candle to light today to honor a woman who was perhaps the greatest influence in my life. But like that woman often did, I squirreled it away somewhere so special and safe, that I can't find it. So, I improvised; Bumma would have approved, I am sure.
The other day, my grandgirl, who is with us for a bit this summer, said something that surprised me. She commented how I often am nice to complete strangers, saying things to them that just make them happy. (Undoubtedly to counter act the times I am utterly evil.) So I told her this story.
As a girl, I noted how my mother easily engaged complete strangers in conversation. She was quite inquisitive, and had the ability to chat with almost anyone. (Her eldest son also was very skilled this same way. My brother Jim tells how he'd go into the same shop, weekly for years, and receive no special acknowledgement from the shopkeeper. Erico visited it once, and was recognized immediately ever after, on return, and Jim, the regular patron, became "Eric's brother.")
As my mother got older, she grew even more charming, engaging, and rememberable. Somewhere along the line, in my adulthood, I made a conscious decision to emulate the gift of making a complete stranger feel good. I began slowly, maybe once a month saying something nice. I included it in my practice as a nurse, making sure I found something positive to say about the children I encountered. I worked with disabled children, and sometimes I was with a parent early on after their child's birth. I reminded myself that no one dreams of having a house with a white picket fence, a beautiful family, and a child with a disability, but you play the hand you're dealt, and you play it with all the skill you can. Sometimes it was easy to find that wonderful feature to focus on ("What beautiful eyes!"); sometimes it was tough. I remember one child, whose father had fled from the room unable to look as his baby -- whose mother looked at her offspring with dismay. I, too, was hardpressed, but then the baby began to cry, and I put my hand on its head, to comfort it. "Don't you have the most perfect set of lungs!" I said. "Listen to you!" The baby quieted at my touch, and I murmured, "See? You just want a little attention and loving. What a smart baby!" Mama's eyes lit up, and she took her baby in her arms for the first time. Yes, that was an odd looking child, but before my eyes, I saw love bloom.
As I grew older, I began making it a weekly, then daily event. Sometimes it is as simple as telling someone that a particular color they were wearing becomes them. Sometimes it is more. But I try to remember my pleases and thank you's. I try to complement good service. I thank police, firefighters, military folks for what they give to our community. Meter readers on the street are particularly fun to say thank you to, or to buy a cool bottle of water for on a hot Charleston day. Everyone usually shouts at them.
One day, when I wheeling Bumma to the Hollings Cancer Center, in the last days of her life, she turned to me and commented how I always found something good to say to someone, even if they were a bumbling idiot. My jaw must have dropped in astonishment, and if I had my wits about me, I might have said "apple, tree, not far" or "pot kettle black". She sat back in her chair and said, "I like that. Finding something to make someone else feel good. I think I'll try doing that."
Ah, Mama, if only you knew....