Every once in a while I re-read this poem my son wrote to honour my parents at their 80th birthday party. Every time I read it it is with new eyes. Today I am thinking about the word legacy, and what that means. My parents are aging and I am facing my own aging and what it means - "To whom much is given, much is required." My parents have given so much to me, to my children, to others. Watching them, appreciating the many sacrifices they made for us, I am inspired by the legacy they are leaving.
Brene Brown has said that the research has shown that who we are as people has far more influence on our children than any of our parenting methods. So I had it wrong all those years of trying to be the perfect parent. Of failing to be the perfect parent, actually. And I have learned far more from my parents than from anything they have tried to teach me, just by watching them.
Some of the seeds that were planted years ago when my mom dragged me along to the Nursing Homes to sing to people, when she stopped the car to make me pick up the garbage I had cavalierly thrown out the window, when she camped out at my house and did the night watch so that I could get a few hours of sleep after I had a new baby, when my dad helped new immigrant families by offering employment, friendship, and helping them find homes - these are among the many things they taught me without words; be there for people, give what you can, do the right thing, let a new mom get some sleep.
Many times in the past, I have told my mom that I can't believe all that she sacrificed for me in helping me raise my children. She would casually answer - Oh, one day you'll do the same for your own kids, and I would think to myself, I don't think so. And yet, what she didn't tell me was that maybe one small act at a time, done with love, might add up over a lifetime. At least, that is what I am hoping for. Because what she also didn't tell me is that love causes us to do great things. And that too is what I hope for.
For King Waldemar and Queen Elizabeth, and all the family monarchs
When I was nine my Oma slapped my hand for using a bad word, shaped calm and clear into the quick and crude of my thoughts and speech.
Today I use worse words, more freely, and my hands go unpunished and unguilty.
When I was thirteen my Opa showed me how to clean toilets in his machine shop, how to collect metal fractals with a broom and empty buckets with an overhead crane, shrunk machines from cold giants into pliable tools, took the same fear that conflated a lack of light with a lack of courage and made it into a confidence learned only through doing
And the lesson, again, wasn’t about being an uncertified, underage crane operator,
It was about discipline, but you had the wisdom not to tell me outright
To come by contemplation, like finding the purpose of a bee’s search for nectar not through a sentence but through our eyes, measuring its meanderings against the frantic purpose of its desire.
We watched you like satellites, hoping for your stooping arms to open and swaddle us as we clamoured on, knowing that we had your affections despite our best efforts at vanity and bravado.
Vanity and bravado, the virtues I found most readily in the church of my youth,
Where the most foyer-appropriate questions I heard were “Where did you get those fabulous earrings?” and “Should we go to the Olive Garden or Swiss Chalet for lunch?”
The church of half-concealed faith, where my Oma and my Opa sit at the ready, spreading grace like it’s the currency of a dying country, raising congregants from their placated stares into the joys of honest living, from the travesty of invented confidence into the majesty of attempted holiness, a departure from the false god of perceived wealth. Because
When did the contents of our wallet begin to matter more than the concept of a conscience of courage?
I learned the difference from watching you.
You who let my difficult questions ease past any preconceived alarms,
You, who found a path where no path was carved,
You, who had the humility to be open to things you didn’t understand,
Like sound therapy and the power of midwives,
You with your shameless garage-sale bartering and hands like twin rivers
Carved from decades of gentle Clydesdale workings
Gnarled around homespun pant repairs and the taut delicacy of cabbage rolling,
You, who knew poverty,
Whose struggles have been your own, whose faith has strengthened the pant-leg patchwork of this broken world
And whose humble diligence elevates all our disciplines.
Ours is a world that leans towards complacency,
Commonplace like the dismissal of our elders as irrelevant,
You, the keepers of a wisdom I can only pretend to have a corner on,
Spitting words like spinning tires, hoping that they might catch and bring us somewhere real, some place like the grace I find in your eyes every time I walk through your door and you see my inherited smile, my young hands still sharp-edged and uneroded by time and labour.
Savour this moment like the season’s last sugar plum, there’s more to be enjoyed but it’ll take a year’s patience, a year of something none of us have much of, a year of time. And at a very young age I learned that time is a gift worth more if spent in love,
And that love itself was something of a great machine,
Not to be feared or cursed at, but approached with the kind of courage fashioned by a discipline that you started shaping in me at the age of thirteen, of nine, of three, of nothing at all. And before I know it, I’m 80 years old and your lives are a distant memory. But my bones will be shaped by the rivers of time that I owe to you, and the smile on my face and the tears on my cheek will be the markings of a God that lived through two people who allowed grace and love to live through them,
Because it doesn’t take faith to know that you love us.
And that love itself lives in the blood and bones of everyone in this room
That our courage, our grace, our tears, our smiles