What I Learned:

Selected remarks about the exercise from a previous class:

  • As I did today’s writing exercise, I was reminded that there’s been an enduring thread of similar beliefs, values and attitudes in my family from my grandparents to my parents to me.  We’ve all lived very different lives, yet the underlying Happily, I’m beginning to see the same things manifesting in my adult children.   We’ve all lived very different lives, yet the underlying value system has been remarkably consistent.  Even though I’m the first in my family to officially write an ethical will, clearly the importance of doing so is embedded in my family heritage.  All of us have somehow “gotten” the importance of passing on our experiences, values and beliefs to future generations.

Something I learned from my parents… from prior workshops

My dad worked hard all his life.  I learned the value of hard work and also the value of having friends.  It was virtually impossible for him to go anywhere in the city and not see someone he knew.  I think the biggest lesson I learned from my dad to live a life of contentment.

Love and devotion to family

How to have fun

That hurtful action often comes from people who feel hurt or insufficient themselves

What the process of addiction looks like, its progression, its consequences, its to others in their presence

What recovery from addiction looks like, its transformation, its regeneration, its tremendous power

How important amends are – truth and reconciliation

How to reflect someone in a loving way through stories about them told back to them or tremendous power

  • Interesting to have all these learnings (not comprehensive by far!) in one place and to appreciate the overlaps between people and seeming contradictions within a person (I love the idea of paradox!).


Something I learned from my parents:

My parents were Ukrainian immigrants (though my mother rarely admitted it—she usually told people she was born in Omaha, a white lie, because she arrived in America at age 7 and grew up in Omaha}.  My mother was a person who saw the world in black and white; there was no in-between, so I learned to be different, to embrace the wide middle range of taste and behavior.  From her I learned to love books and reading and to cultivate my imagination.  I learned the importance of friends and family. I learned she was always there for her family and that I should be, too, although I never met her exacting standards.  When my daughter had her tonsils out, Mother called the hospital to see how she was doing.  No one answered.  When she called later and I explained that I had gone downstairs to eat dinner, she was shocked.  “You left your child alone!”  Yes, I did and she survived.  One credo of my mother’s was “never air your dirty linens in public.”  She was a very private person who rarely shared personal information and in many ways, this has stayed with me.

My father was a hard-working businessman but he always took time to be with me, to play games when I was very small, to teach me the alphabet and math facts, to listen to my troubles.  His motto was: always keep your word, and I do.  Nothing disturbs me more than to have to back out of something I’d promised to do, even if it’s for a good reason.  Your word is how people know you and how they respect you and I’ve always honored that.  He also taught me to never be a quitter—a good lesson for a writer who has to live with more rejections than acceptances.  “Stand up for your rights,” he would tell me, but I haven’t always fulfilled that.  I know my father loved me unconditionally; he supported me through every crisis, great or small.  It was a huge loss, therefore, when his physical health began to fail and he slipped into dementia.  His death was my first great loss and the hardest to live with.  I often think of questions I want to ask him, and so writing an ethical will has been something I’ve undertaken to, hopefully, answer questions my children may have about me.

Something I learned from experience

What I learned from experience changed my self-image.  After being critically burned at nineteen, I learned I was far stronger than I’d ever thought.  Perhaps because I’m so un-athletic, I saw myself as wimpy, but I learned that I was strong in determination and persistence and was able to come back from a serious illness and continue to live my life with more zest and confidence than ever before.  Had I been my mother, I would have shriveled up and become reclusive, but I never worried about my scarred legs—they weren’t me.  This attitude got me through the inevitable tragedies and crises of life—the dissolution of my first marriage, the loss of my father, the illness and loss of my husband, my son’s stroke and his fight for recovery.  I took as my motto a Yiddish proverb:  When one must, one can,” and that got me through early widowhood.  Now I’m dealing with what may become a chronic pain issue and I told myself yesterday that I would find a way to deal with it.

 Something I’m grateful for

I’m grateful for a lot of things—my children, my profession, my education, but what I think I’m most grateful for is my friends.  I recently read that a Stanford psychiatrist said that the happiest men are those who are married and that happiest women are those who have “girl friends”  I know that’s true.  I have friends from all stages of my life.  Recently five high school buddies spend a weekend together, laughing all the way.  My friends supported me through my husband’s illness and death and its aftermath.  I’m grateful for phone calls this past week, just calls to say, “How are you doing?’  They’ve cheered me and reminded me how much joy I have in my life.