These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on April 1, 2013 by Falynn Schmidt

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Originally posted to my blog yesterday, March 31:

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 68. What a strange thing to think. Sixty-eight, so young. Such a difficult life, surreal in ways I can’t imagine and in ways I know too well.

My mother was an amazing woman, as you’ve either experienced first hand or heard me say many times. Independent, she left home at 18 to join the Navy against her Jewish mother’s wishes and leaving her 13-year-old sister behind, recently fatherless and alone. My mother worked hard, sent money home, saved, put herself through nursing school, survived boot camp, basic training, and three years of Stateside service during Viet Nam.

She was the first in the family to go to secondary school, the first to own a car, the first to live outside the family’s one-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

She was the first to travel outside of the United States. Heck, she was the first to travel outside the tri-state area. She was a hopeless romantic who lost herself in Harlequin Romance novels and Emily Loring fairy tales.

She married a promising lawyer and divorced a broken one. She was the first to own her own home and pay off its mortgage, build a second home and move far away from New Jersey.

She did all of this before 30, and much more in the following 36 years, only from a wheelchair.

She raised a daughter, by herself, perhaps her greatest feat. And she left behind a legacy of independence, adventure, strength, and courage.

When I look back at my mother’s life, I can’t separate the amazing things she did, tooth and nail, from the mistakes she made and the complications she created. She wore independence like a badge of honor and she passed that on to her sole heir as a blessing and a curse. Her perfect record keeping, organizing, and cleanliness caused an equal and opposite reaction in her only offspring.

She never gave advice and she mostly held her tongue, but when she did work out what she thought, she certainly let you know.

She passed on a deep sense of responsibility, even when it was to her detriment, and she held responsibility as a mark of one’s character.

When I look at her photographs, volumes of them carefully arranged and labeled, embellished with cocktail stirs and entrance tickets, I see the tall, confident woman who is my mother the myth, the woman I only know from stories and pictures, standing there, defying the camera.

When I think about the woman I actually knew, brave and bold, leaning in before leaning in was a term, determined and in charge, I realize that standing is such a minor part of a person’s posture, especially when someone stands so tall.

All my life, she sat, but always in the driver’s seat, fighting against the injustice of disease and the confinement of a wheelchair. She took her 66 years very seriously, knowing time was precious and family even more so.

Thinking about my mother brings more questions than answers, more complexities in relationships, more stories to workshop. I am learning, albeit slowly, from her blessings and curses, from her achievements and mistakes, and even without giving me direct advice, as was her way, I am growing in the legacy that was my mother.