As travelers we often contemplate and write about the marks a place and its people leave behind, whether it be in our hearts, our minds, our beings. But how often do we pay attention to the marks that we leave behind? Are they worthy of our mention?
My mother was an amazing woman. A single mother of two, when I lived with her and my younger brother, I never wanted for anything and it wasn’t till much older that I learned that she struggled financially to give us those things we needed. I do remember that she worked hard. She often said that pursuing and attaining her college degree as a woman in her 40s, with a full-time job and two happy and healthy children was one of her greatest achievements.
As she grew older and we talked more as two female friends then just mother and daughter, she confided in me and shared her many dreams. One of them being able to travel the world when she retired. She had saved for it. Worked for it. Deserved it.
She had survived breast cancer, found love and retired. She had raised two children on her own who adored her and were successful and happy. Just as she planned the first of what she said would be many, many more trips she was diagnosed with cancer yet again. This time it deformed and debilitated her, and eventually killed her.
It has been three years since the death of my mother and I have never been the same. Her death changed me and affected me in ways nothing else in my life has.
The outpouring of love and the many tears cried from friends far and wide was overwhelming. People who she had known since her childhood, as a young immigrant to this country, as a professional in different jobs, as a daughter, sister, friend, mother loved her. They spoke of the good she did. How she helped and cared for others. How she had very little, but gave so much in friendship, encouragement, and affection. How she inspired other women, other mothers. She would’ve been proud. We were proud.
Even though I knew my mother to be the kindest of souls and strongest of women, it was the reaction to her death from so many, and how they remembered and celebrated her that really made me self-examine myself.
When I die, when I leave all the people that know me behind, how will I be remembered? Will it be in a way that will make my children proud? That will inspire them to be the best THEY can be? Will they learn to stand up for themselves? To speak out against injustice or cruelty? To never be pushed down and to help others up?
The list of unfulfilled dreams my mother left behind drives me each day to do what I love. The support of my husband and family gives me the freedom to do so. The strength and courage with which she faced adversity and struggles helps me to stay committed to doing the same for myself. But it is the mark I leave behind during this journey through life that guides me.
I am not always kind, nor am I always wise. I sometimes speak too much, and fail to listen. I have not mastered the art of forgiveness, and I often give in to anger. I am not always the best wife, nor am I always a good mother…and as a friend I strive to be better.
But the bottom line is I strive and try. I think and reflect. I consider other’s feelings and apologize often, from the heart and sincerely. Life is too short. My mother’s life is an example of that. When I fail in my efforts, she is the person I think of and helps me back to my center. I want to enjoy this journey as much as possible. The hope is that when I encounter those who I pass, whether by chance or by choice, the mark I leave, if any, is one that would honor the kind, outspoken, strong, and confident woman who raised me in a way that would make us both proud.
In your life’s journey, what marks are you striving to leave behind? And does it make you proud?