Monday, May 16, 2011


It's still May--this is a belated tribute to my mother, who loved purple, as well as an enquiry about heritage.

You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Psalm 61:5

            That verse is a great comfort to me, an adopted child who has chosen not to connect with my birth family. I have no concept of my true biological heritage; a few details are clear, since mine was a privately arranged adoption and I have photographs—I look like my birth mother.
            My heritage from my adoptive mother was to have included her diamonds. She’d tried to press them on me many times before her death, after her hands had swollen and the metal of the rings grown thin. I’d always maintained that I was too young to wear diamonds, and they would be there when I was ready for them.
            Foolish obstinacy and blind faith! Those rings, some drugs, and a few other valuables were stolen while we were attending my mother’s funeral. The sense of rage and blight, of being dishonored—it had to have been someone who knew us, because we had not put the announcement of the time of the funeral in the paper. Someone had been watching the house. The police were not hopeful; this sort of crime happened far too often. A physical part of my heritage was irrevocably gone.
            Well, they were only rings symbolizing a marriage that had often been troubled, I told myself, so why would I want them? I could buy diamonds of a similar age in a consignment or antique shop if I really wanted them.
            We create heritage every day of our lives, and it’s not just about a robust financial portfolio. My mother worked very hard to keep her house so that she could give it to my brother and me. But the heritage I have from her is deeper than material things. I love having her silverware and utensils, her tablecloths and potholders—the common things of her life. Beyond that, however, I have received the heritage of a woman who made hospitality and unselfish giving into an art form.
            I’m not sure exactly what defines the heritage of those who fear God’s name. God doesn’t cut deals; those who fear God are subject to cancer and other illnesses, tragedy, grief, and death. Nobody gets a free pass through life. Perhaps, as in the case of my mother, the heritage isn’t about material things so much as it is about personality and character: the Godfearers are a particular kind of people, not an economic class of people.
            Now that cancer has made my own mortality real to me, I’m more aware of what heritage I will leave. I’m hoping that my words will continue to matter after I’m gone. I hope that the time I’ve spent with the young people in my church will continue to resonate for them, just as the gifts of time and teaching that my Sunday School teachers have done with me. As new oportunities to speak about cancer arise, I hope my words touch lives and bring hope and healing.
            We can’t know what heritage we leave. We can only work to make sure, in the language of a doctor’s pledge, that we “first, do no harm.” From there, we work to spread compassion and love, which may just be the heritage of those who fear God’s name.

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