Although I’ve always been an active and interactive grandmother to my grandchildren, with the deaths of my mother and mother-in-law I’ve thought long and hard about the concept of “legacy.” The fact that b”h my children are shomrei mitzvot (observant Jews), happily married, and raising children of their own, is perhaps my most important legacy (either because of me or more likely, in spite of me). Borne with joy and tears and siyata d’shamaya (heavenly assistance), it has been my single-minded pursuit, from a religious perspective and, especially and admittedly, as a knee-jerk reaction to the assimilation within my own generation (most of my relatives’ children are not Jewish due to intermarriage). That my children have become the people that they are, each in a service profession helping others, that they are excellent spouses and parents, fills me with gratitude. Simply put, it’s nachas.
I had fantasies that my house in Maine would serve as a repository of wonderful experiences and memories for my children and particularly my grandchildren, a collective gathering space and haven where high tuition, the cost of living, the frenetic pace of daily living and the resulting stresses could be temporarily forgotten. It would be an opportunity to leave one’s troubles and pressures behind, and enter a world where there were a multitude of activities that one could choose to participate in or not, but that there was something for everyone to enjoy. There would be time to interact on a personal level without interruptions or distractions due to simpler pursuits. I could practically hear everyone singing “Kumbaya” in unison around the campfire.
Alas, for reasons political, personal or practical, not all of our children are interested in the Maine adventure, either for themselves or for their children, and I doubt they’ll ever experience it or even deem to try. My vision is not necessarily their vision. Perhaps they think “maybe another time” but if I’ve learned anything in the past few years (a consequence of aging), we may not have “another time.” So many people’s epitaphs read, “Would have/Should have/Could have.” Regrets are inevitable but I am determined to minimize them. I may be forgotten by my grandchildren, but I hope that many years from now as adults, they will read my blog and better understand who I was, what I was trying to become, and what I was trying to pass on to them.
I have been truly blessed in so many ways. Maine has allowed me to stop, slow down and smell the roses in my life, to facilitate the expression of gratitude for life’s bounties: for my marriage, and the man who has made my life’s journey so complete (that’s the same guy who I’m married to, just for the record!); for my children and grandchildren; for my Judaism and relationship to HaShem; for my friends; for my ability to see and do and experience so many things; and for the actualization of possibility.
Although I enjoy the solitude, it’s even better when this gift of Maine is shared. For the hardy souls of all ages who have made the trek to join me for some time off, it’s been an incredible source of joy to see the worry lines in their faces disappear and their eyes to shine with happiness. The gift of a good night’s sleep for a friend with many troubles; the joy of a rabbi and his family from my home town who can swim and kayak at a remote mountain lake in complete privacy; the thrill of a small child seeing a moose in its natural habitat; the sense of accomplishment in a young person’s hike-and-bike trek; the unusual quiet experienced by a harried young mother sitting undisturbed on our porch; the camaraderie and incredulity in sharing a Shabbos meal seemingly in the middle of nowhere – – this, too, is nachas.
Recently I had a bit of a medical scare which, b’chasdei HaShem (in G-d’s kindness) turned out to be fine. But again I thought: what might I accomplish in the time left to me? What meaning might there be to my life? What lasting legacy can I pass on to my children and grandchildren? The truth is, it should not take a medical scare to initiate these thoughts; we should be living our lives with these questions in our minds all the time. This month of Elul, which leads up to Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur, is a wonderful vessel for introspection of this nature.