December 5, 2019, marked the 96th year my mother has been on this planet. Throughout our lives, she has encouraged me, as well as many other people, to live life fully and vibrantly. It was my mother who introduced my twin sister and me to ballet; a story I previously shared with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections. She also ensured we made it to our dance classes, even learning how to drive when my older sister went off to college. And she attended all of our performances. Recently, when thinking about my mother, I experienced a rush of tremendous appreciation for the vibrant life force she shared with me and my sisters, especially given her longevity. I think it’s always important to remember that we can continue to learn daily from our parents or other elders—whether they are with us physically or not.
You may be surprised to learn that my mother has dementia and resides in an assisted living facility that has a focus on memory care and is in Chicago. She receives excellent care from her caregivers and, of course, from my two sisters. One thing is clear—as my mother’s ability to share and communicate has diminished, her life force and passion for living has increased. A perfect example of this was her 96th birthday party, which was attended by 50 people. The attendees were comprised of staff and residents from the assisted living facility, as well as friends. They call my mother, “Grandma,” and make sure they see her daily. Mother is so present, and her eyes are so bright. You can feel her vibrant energy and caring as she listens. This seems to be enough to help a number of people to not only feel good about who they are, but also know that someone cares about them.
I think the most important lessons we can learn from my mother’s experience is that no matter what our state of life, no matter what our physical or neurological condition, we always have the potential for renewal; we can always encourage someone else, or give hope to others. We can even learn something new. This has everything to do with the arts, and its consistent efforts to revitalize the human spirit. Sometimes art is on stage, in a movement, in a book or a picture. Other times art manifests in how we live our lives.
My mentor, Daisaku Ikeda writes, “I hope all of you, without saying a word, will inspire people to do their human revolution (change from the inside out), touch another’s heart.” My mother is a living and vibrant example of that. Her life is a masterpiece of thoughtfulness, generosity, compassion and love.