This afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak to a very wonderful group of women.  I had no inkling that it was I who would be spoken to.

It was a work thing.  I was to go and give a lunch-time talk about our organization to a group of elderly ladies at the Jewish Community Center in the city where I work.  I had stressed about what I was going to wear.  I’d been nervous in the car on the way there.  The director of the program had said that there would be about 60 ladies present, ranging in age from 60 to 93.

When I arrived, the women were finishing their ice cream, and chatting amongst themselves at tables.  I said hello to this one and that one, all with my professional face on, glowing and smiling.  I’m pretty good at putting up the polite societal barriers, draping myself in the persona of my profession.  I was oh-so-charming.

The director of the program was wearing a blood-red blouse, fierce glasses, and had jet-black hair.  She led me to the lectern, which was designed for a man twice my height.  I felt conspicuous.  I had worn black sneakers.

One of the ladies came forward to introduce me.  The others slowly finished their desserts and then drifted forward to their chairs by the lectern, on canes and walkers, slender hands steadying themselves on the backs of metal seats.  As all of this was very slowly happening, the woman who would introduce me silently read my bio, a little nothing that I had self-consciously cobbled together earlier this morning.  She looked up at me and said, nodding, “You, are a very special lady.” I smiled, looked down, and then we exchanged a glance.

That glance…  Her eyes pierced though the polished persona in an instant, leaving me vulnerable and clumsy.  She, she was indescribably beautiful.  A tiny little thing, not more than five feet tall, with lovely coiffed hair and translucent porcelain skin.  Her eyes…

Now, I have to tell you something here.  When you are raised by a pathologically narcissistic parent, you have never, ever, heard the words “I love you” without suspicion.  They are always followed by a demand or a painfully manipulative cruelty.  I’ve spent my entire lifetime hiding behind a wall, unable to hear love, unable to trust it.  But, I’ll tell you this, I’ve peeped out from my fortress for each of my 52 years whenever I’ve heard a kind voice, hoping…  hoping…

This lovely woman slowly walked the three steps to where I was standing, and carefully, gently, reached up to touch my face.  “You are a very, very special lady” she said again.  She patted my cheek.  She patted my arm.  She took my hand in hers.  I confess, I pretended for a moment that she was my mother, drinking in the feminine kindness that radiated from her, devouring it like a cool draught of water, stolen in the desert.

Then, this graceful, beautiful woman said softly, “I survived the holocaust.”

My tears came hot and insistent behind my eyes.  Fighting the urge to kiss her hands though the tears, I said to her, “I will tell my son about you, about having met you.  Many of his father’s family did not survive.”

“Do you know what the most important thing is?” she asked, patting my hand, her grey-blue eyes dancing,  “I have learned one thing in my life.  You tell this to your son.  The most important thing, the most important thing, is love.”

~

My son and his girlfriend came by the office this afternoon.  He wanted to borrow a few dollars for some medicine.  His allergies are acting up.  I told him the story, and passed on the old woman’s words.  He stood in my office and wept.

The most important thing, the most important thing, is love.

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60 Comments on “The Most Important Thing

  1. I, too, am in tears after reading this.
    I am sorry for your mother/daughter strife. I understand it.
    What I have done, several times in my own life, is to attract nurturing elders – to draw them to me through my own chasm of need.

    My own mother is in her final days. I have actually just made plans to fly out to see her.
    What I have discovered at sixty this year is that I have truly forgiven her. I see a frail woman, filled with self loathing. I reflect on her life, and it seems tragic.
    I am thankful that I endured long enough to utterly embrace life and bestow upon myself this tenderness, this gift of forgiving.
    I wish for you this peace, this self love, and all the joy you can muster. It is, after all, Your Life. I’ve reminded myself of that so. many. times. Now I no longer need to do it, rather I work daily on being positive and engaging love and appreciation wherever it can be discovered.
    Blessings.

    • Thank you, Bela. I’ve come light-years in just the past 24 months, when I finally learned that there was something broken in her and that it has a name. It totally changed my life. Until then, I still deeply believed that I was all of the horrid things she ever said about me. But, so very much has changed now. I’m grateful for your sweet blessings and kindest words.

        • I was SO ready. The moment the turning point appeared, I jumped. Never looked back. Love and support to you, Bela, as you walk through the coming months of the close of her life.

          • Thanks so much! The last thing I want to do right now is to leave our little island paradise and head for the big city. But the thought that my girls would be too busy or preoccupied to be part of my own life’s end is too emotionally devastating to think about. Peace, dear.

  2. Martha Beck wrote in her book Expecting Adam that the word mother is at its most powerful when used as a verb. She describes a similar event of such rare grace, an expression of pure love, and reflects on the way that mothering often has nothing to do with biological connections. Mothering can happen at the most unlooked for times and in the most unexpected of places. There truly is nothing more important than love. My heart is full of happiness from reading this. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much for bringing that book to my attention. Interesting that you mention “mothering”. I actually started this blog when I discovered that not only could I find moments of it in the actions and attitudes of my horses (and dogs), but that I could (finally) tolerate welcoming any form of mothering. Since that time, I’ve looked for opportunities to open to it. Yesterday’s encounter was a sterling example.

  3. You just brought tears to my eyes again with your incredible writing. Your posts always contain such depth and emotion, and this one has beautiful truth and wisdom too. Your draught of mother feels as though it nourished you 🙂

    • The “draught of mother” ~yes, it was incredibly nourishing. Sometimes the trick is knowing when to totally let down the defenses.

    • I HAD to share. And there was certainly enough “powerful” in that lovely woman for all of us. Thanks for reading and for leaving a note.

  4. “But, I’ll tell you this, I’ve peeped out from my fortress for each of my 52 years whenever I’ve heard a kind voice, hoping… hoping…”

    Thank you.

    • Its funny. We all hope to run into someone who knows the secrets of how to get through this life. Her advice pretty much sums it all up and then some.

    • Thank you for your words, Virgilio. I’m often moved by your photos and what you have to say. Be well.

    • You’re right, Teri. My task is to focus my lens so that I can see it clearly when it does. Thanks for your sweet words.

    • It knocked me off my feet, that’s for sure! And after that, I had to give a talk! hahahaha! Pulled it off somehow. Thanks, Lynette.

  5. Beautiful. As are you. I enjoy you so, you have no idea. And I love you quietly and peacefully and with all that connects our souls from the miles and miles of physical distance. You are a very special lady. I have told you that before…and I am so glad that are recieving and recording this benediction from others, ago in a glance see and feel exactly who you are.

    Absolutely positively…makes my heart smile…yay!

  6. Thank you. So much pain and so much love. I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s new book, the Storyteller. What you have shared strikes home in so many ways. The Holocaust is (or it should be) a part of our collective psyche, something that we never forget and that we make sure future generations remember. I’m so glad you and your blog have come into my life. You keep me centered. Thank you.

    • Sharon, thank you for the beautiful comment. Yes, the holocaust seems to be a part of my own psyche, until I meet someone who survived it – and I’ve met many. Suddenly, my notions of what it’s about are humbled beyond measure.
      I’m so glad you’re here, and that you’re finding something of value in this blog. That’s why I write. Hugs and love to you.

  7. Wow. Such amazing people sure help me put my own trivial issues into perspective. Maybe she’s a bodhisattva…
    Love is all you need.

  8. “…it was I who would be spoken to.”…and you were able to listen and hear. I think that speaks volumes more than words.
    Peace–

  9. ZD, This really hit the spot for me today. Of course. All you need is love. This is the only thing that matters. Thanks for being out there working, rubbing elbows and sharing the words. Keep spreading the love. Alice

      • I like having my doors blown off from time to time. I bet it doesn’t happen too often to you. You must have sturdy doors on your barn. Alice

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