Monday, August 20, 2012

Leaving a legacy

When Irena Sendler's daughter asked her, “What sins have you got on your conscience mama?" all she knew was that her mother was carrying a burden. She didn't know it was the burden of leaving a legacy. A legacy can be many things, property, money, anything handed down from the past.

Irena Sendler was born in Poland and lived during the Nazi occupation of her country during World War II. She defied the Germans and under penalty of execution rescued Jewish children and secretly preserved the names of their parents on napkins kept at her bedside.

In 1948, a pregnant Irena gave birth prematurely after the stress of undergoing interrogations by the secret police took its toll on her body and the life of what would have been her second child. Before her death in 2008 she confessed she felt guilty and had been a bad daughter, wife and mother. Her selflessness and heroism came at a cost. Though a tree was planted in her honor in 1983 at Yad Vashem, her family suffered. Or had they?

As a parent our children need our time. As a spouse our better halves need our undying loyalty in the face of mounting debt, declining markets, sickness and midlife crisis. As a member of society, future generations need a legacy.

Though Irena Sendler probably missed out on some birthdays, she smuggled as many Jewish children as she could out of a Treblinka Nazi death camp. In doing so, her legacy to all mothers, wives and daughters is an example that there can be a silver lining in the face of destruction by standing up for human rights not just political ideals or religious creed.

Likely most of us will live our entire lives without having to make choices like who's life to save or how to ration food among family members. But that doesn't mean we can't leave a legacy worth being proud of.

My mother's legacy doesn't consist of brick and mortar. It's not a nine digit account number accruing interest somewhere. Though it may never release an IPO, the ingredients of her legacy are listed below.

Lessons my mother taught me

1. The importance of humility

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” -Norman Vincent Peale

What I wish she would have also taught me: How to have a better poker face especially when I read the price tag on some items.

2. The importance of a strong work ethic

“What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.”
― Jason Fried

What I wish she would have also taught me: How to get others to do it for me.

3. Celebrating my Mexican heritage doesn't make me less of an America

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” - Jimmy Carter

What I wish she would have also taught me: How to make her delicious mole.

4. How to gain perspective in tough times

“Let yourself wallow in self-pity for three days. On the third day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with a life worth living.” – My mom

I dedicate this post to my little cousin Alicia. Thanks for giving me the idea. :)


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