I ran across my mom’s obituary the other day. Her birthday is coming up and I’ve found myself really missing her lately, so I’ve been looking at old photos and memorabilia. As I reread what I had written for her obituary, I was reminded of what a truly remarkable woman she was: her many accomplishments, her generous spirit, her love of life, and her love for her friends and family. But I was also struck by the fact that I had left out one of her most defining characteristics. Thankfully, the Daily Independent newspaper’s editor, who was also a great friend of my mom’s, added her own comment at the end and filled in what I had missed. She said: “While we join her many loved ones in mourning her loss, we are grateful for the indelible mark of kindness she left on virtually everyone who was fortunate enough to know her. —Ed.”
An “indelible mark of kindness.” What a perfect summation of how my mom lived her life and the impact she had on those around her. Kindness was her superpower. She responded to almost every situation with kindness, love, and humor. She was the first person to volunteer to bring meals or lend an ear to an ailing friend. She elevated, encouraged, and celebrated those in her life. And she could diffuse the most tense situation just by being kind. Here’s a small example of that: One time when we were camping on Lake Isabella, a rowdy group of campers was keeping us awake into the wee hours. Finally, my mom had enough and decided to go over and put a stop to it. But she didn’t go over in anger as I might have. Rather she walked over with a smile on her face and kindness in her pocket, introduced herself to the group, joined in their fun for a minute or two and then with her characteristic good humor asked that they tone it down a bit since we were all trying to sleep. And that was all it took. Her kindness was disarming. And it was transformative, and indelible. She always saw the good in people and worked under the assumption that people really wanted to do what was right.
But she was no pushover. Yes, kindness was her superpower, but her strong sense of justice, or what she called logical consequences, was her sidekick. If we kids make a bad decision, we got to reap “the consequences of our actions,” though those consequences were always paired with a hug and a conversation. How fortunate we were to grow up with that combination of kindness and justice.
So there are two questions I’m pondering today regarding her kindness. The first is why. This was a woman who was abused by her father as a child, whose mother abandoned her family and who lived in foster care with a few horrible foster parents. And that was just the first few years. At a young age, she saw the worst of humanity. And yet...and yet she was the kindest person I’ve ever met. How did that happen? I can’t help but assume that so much of her kindness emanated from her great faith. I’m reminded of the verse: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). I have to believe that this must have been one of her favorite verses because that is how she lived her life. She didn’t pontificate or wear the trappings of Christianity or do anything that would create a barrier to anyone she met. Rather, she lived that verse, providing the world a genuine example of God’s love -- and leaving an “indelible mark of kindness” in her wake.
My second question is: what she would think of these times where so many are being so unkind. How would she respond? I’m sure her poor heart would be breaking to see the discord so prevalent in our country today. I’m sure she would be dismayed by the unkindness of some of our elected officials and their followers. But I also know that her response would be to redouble her efforts to love as many people as she could and disarm them with her kindness. And at the same time, she would demand justice. I’m quite certain that she would be out there marching and writing letters and talking to her neighbors, and imploring us to look inward and reconnect with the goodness we each possess. And she would demand consequences for those whose actions warranted it.
My mom continues to inspire me, even after almost five years since she left us. Her example encourages me to both be more kind and to be more courageous as we head into another year. That is her legacy. And that’s how we change the world.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife /English teacher and lavender farmer located in Dundee, Oregon.