This week has been very difficult because letting go of anything has always been an issue for me. I’m not at the point where I would prefer to watch a pet goldfish float on the top of the fish bowl, rather than flush it away, but I never understood the concept of ‘just’ moving on. I remain friends with nursery school playmates. I have clothing that I inherited from my Aunt’s thirty years ago. And without realizing it, I have a deep attachment for the house where my Mom lived for 55 years. I’ll come back to that.
Today I went to a memorial service for my dear friend Stewart Mott. It was at St. John the Divine, an amazing and massive Cathedral on the upper west side of NY. The kind of Cathedral you see in movies when the stars are chatting about the magnificence of religion and spirituality. Before we went into the sanctuary we were asked to put on an AIDS type orange ribbon (Stewart’s favorite color). On the ribbon it said, “Let us be known by our deeds.” It was one of Stewart’s favorite sayings. He was a most complicated personality. His drinking caused the break-up of his marriage, he smoked too much dope, was reviled by Richard Nixon (a pretty good recommendation for his character in my book), supported numerous liberal causes and candidates—most of whom lost elections, and was unfortunately, estranged from his son until right before he died. He was charming, adorable, a wonderfully supportive friend and a generous philanthropist. Given the amount of money and energy he spent trying to make the world a better place, it’s easy to understand why he wanted to be known by his deeds.
As we listened to the eulogies resonating in the massive Cathedral, I not only listened to what was being said by the speakers, some of whom, talked too long and talked about themselves rather than Stewart. I also thought about how I wanted my life to be measured. So I did a mental check of my resume—it’s the only way I can remember what I’ve done. And in my mind’s eye, (how can a mind have an eye), I see a list of accomplishments—as opposed to tasks performed. Included are teaching and mentoring young people, helping women to find opportunity, and finding ways to increase understanding among people who have differences—religion, color, gender, culture and on and on. I’ve written books and produced documentaries but the accomplishment is not in the writing or producing—it is in making people laugh. The ability to make people laugh is really something special... even if I must say so myself, and you know I must.
Anyway, I’m listening and reflecting (luckily I’m ADD so I can do more than one thing at a time), and the final speaker got up to the podium. His eulogy was a memo he wrote to Stewart about the arrangements Stewart wanted when he died. Among a number of items on the list he wanted to be cremated wearing a Flint, Michigan volunteer fire department hat. He also wanted a specific marching band and fluorescent orange vests from the Cabela catalogue, for all the mourners. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to produce them so I didn’t come home with any hunting paraphernalia. Oh yes, and for everyone who came to any service celebrating his life to make a donation to Barack Obama. There were other equally unusual requests but the point was that Stewart thought about how he wanted his life celebrated and the requests were not only colorful but provided real insight into the way he saw himself and his legacy.
Needless to say, I thought, what do I want my legacy to be? Who knows? Certainly children who are loving, well centered, and concerned beyond themselves. (Done). But do I want the list to include possessions, like my hats and antique beaded bags? Do I want to be measured by my things, rather than my deeds.
This brings us back to my issues with my mother’s house. A week or so ago I wrote about how, after a lifetime, all the things in my mothers house were valued at $650—without the dumpster—that cost $500. If we measure our worth by our possessions it will never amount to much. When the guy came to discuss what everything was worth, I got angry. I kind of made the deal and then I was upset about them wanting to actually remove the things they had purchased. I guess that’s part of the letting go. Today at the memorial service I had a ‘kibitka’. A ‘kibitka’ is actually a small Russian wagon. But years ago, when we were playing “Dictionary” with friends, we decided to redefine the word as ‘a miraculous recovery.’ Are you following? Simply, when I was sitting in the Cathedral I had a miraculous recovery from letting go.
Here was my thinking. My mom used all the stuff in the house for over 55 years. She used it and enjoyed the time she had with it. She loved shopping from catalogues and she got enormous pleasure from buying anything at a discount. Despite all the collectables (and I use the term more than loosely). She would never want her life to be measured by the things she owned. If I put an unrealistic value on things she no longer cared about then all those things – just things—were the way her life would be measured. I don’t want that for me and I certainly don’t want it for her. So tomorrow, I will allow them to take the stuff and graciously and accept a check for $100. It’s still pretty painful to leave a place filled with good and terrible memories, but at least the pain is no longer about the things. We're just sayin...