Lessons learned from ‘luck­i­est per­son’

The Covington News - - OPINION -

This past Satur­day, Dr. Steve Davis gave the mes­sage at my mother’s fu­neral. As pas­tor of First Bap­tist Church of Car­roll­ton, Ga., he re­counted that, dur­ing a re­cent visit, she told him that she was the luck­i­est per­son on earth.

Take her cir­cum­stances into ac­count: She had en­dured and beaten both uter­ine can­cer (in the 1970s) and colon can­cer. (She was given a clean bill of health last month.) She had en­tered a nurs­ing home in 2006, where many thought she would stay (in­clud­ing my sis­ter and me), but re­turned home to live on her own in 2007.

She suf­fered a se­ries of strokes last year and could barely move, but went on — through hard work with great phys­i­cal ther­a­pists — to re­gain use of her hands and arms. Her life was not easy, but she thought she was the luck­i­est per­son in the world.

The evening be­fore the fu­neral, our fam­ily vis­ited with more than a dozen of her friends and for­mer stu­dents (she taught high school math). They re­counted, of­ten tear­fully, how she had changed their lives for the bet­ter, by en­cour­ag­ing them to marry or to ap­ply to col­lege or to con­tinue work­ing on math, un­til they were suc­cess­ful, which all of them were. Dif­fer­ent tales were united by the same mes­sage: Don’t say can’t; you can do it. By the time my sis­ter and I ar­rived at the fu­neral home an hour be­fore visi­ta­tion, her friends were al­ready lin­ing up in the hall. By the time my hus­band and chil­dren joined us, an hour later, there was not a park­ing space avail­able. The line to en­ter the re­cep­tion room was long, and the emo­tions strong.

My mother’s con­stantly smil­ing face, her de­ter­mi­na­tion, her can-do at­ti­tude, her en­cour­age­ment of stu­dents, her in­ter­est in oth­ers above her­self and her faith in God made her dif­fer­ent from other peo­ple.

Her for­mer stu­dents re­called how she had pushed them to­ward suc­cess. Known for giv­ing grad­u­ates the books “The Lit­tle Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper, and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss, she be­lieved in her stu­dents un­til they be­lieved in them­selves.

In the first story, a big, heavy train needs to be pulled across a moun­tain. While other, larger en­gines turn down the chal­lenge, the lit­tle engine takes it up. On the way up the steep moun­tain, as the engine slows, it re­peats the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Fi­nally, it reaches the crest and tran­si­tions to, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” When I was a child, she read me this book so of­ten that I mem­o­rized it.

Dr. Seuss’ tale, “Oh, the Place’s You’ll Go,” is a bit more com­plex. There is no sin­gle moun­tain, but rather a se­ries of ups and downs, mix-ups and strange birds.

“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer your­self any di­rec­tion you choose.”

It re­minds us that “ban­gups and hang-ups can hap­pen to you.” It says that there will be times when things don’t work out and we will end up in “the wait­ing place,” wait­ing for one thing or an­other, “wait­ing around for a yes or a no, or wait­ing for their hair to grow. Ev­ery­one is just wait­ing.”

When the wait­ing is over, “There is fun to be done ... there are games to be won.”

It re­minds us that there will be “games you can’t win,” but adds the en­cour­age­ment that “you will go on,” with suc­cess “98 and 3/4 per­cent guar­an­teed.”

The luck­i­est per­son on earth. Steve con­cluded the mes­sage say­ing that pos­si­bly he (and we) were the luck­i­est peo­ple on earth in­stead of my mom, since we had had the great ad­van­tage of hav­ing known her. She was more in­ter­ested in oth­ers than her­self, she en­cour­aged and be­lieved in her stu­dents un­til they be­lieved in them­selves, and she looked at each de­tour as an ad­ven­ture. She loved many and loved deeply.

Re­flect­ing on the mem­o­ries shared and lives helped re­minded me that, while my mom might be gone, she has left a legacy in the peo­ple she loved and the lives she changed.

The best me­mo­rial to her might just be to en­cour­age more and love more deeply.

To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www. cre­ators.com.

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