Glass Half Full: Thinking about mom
September 14, 2017
Monday, Sept. 11, marked the 13th anniversary of my mother's death. While she was nowhere near New Orleans, her passing coincided with the onslaught of Katrina.
Even as we mourned her loss, my family was acutely aware that mom had lived a very full and rewarding life, while thousands of other families were struggling to come to grips with very different ends. The same holds true as I write: In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the unimaginable losses in their wakes, my heart goes out to those in our country and others whose lives have been so violently disrupted.
My mother, Margaret Noble Appenzeller Huyler, was born and raised in Seoul, Korea, the daughter and granddaughter of Methodist missionaries. She left Korea at the age of 16 to attend UC Berkeley and was not able to return to her homeland for 36 years.
When she and I landed in Kimpo Airport in the fall of 1969, mom's eyes brimmed as she witnessed the Korean flag flying on Korean soil for the first time in her life. In the decades that followed, I had the privilege of returning with her on several occasions as her Appenzeller and Noble families were celebrated in extraordinary ways. The legacy they created remains profound.
Mom had an astute sense of people, of privilege, and of things beyond personal control. Some of that came from her childhood and from a deep faith that was founded during those same years. I rarely heard her complain; she had a sense of generosity and selflessness that I wish I could emulate more.
She had a brilliant way of asking questions that made one reflect non-defensively. Her queries ran along the lines of, "Have you thought about how someone else might be feeling? How a decision now might play out in the future?" When I remember to do that — which is not always, unfortunately — it is so much easier to have productive conversations.
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In our 57 years together, my mother taught me to recognize and appreciate that our lives are filled with many blessings and to try to empathize with and respect the perspectives and experiences of others. She asked questions designed to make me step back and think.
At the same time, the notions of honesty and integrity were essential to her decision-making. My brothers and I knew the only thing that could possibly diminish her support would have been if any of us had been dishonest or not protected others. It took me years to be able to stand up for myself — there was never a question that I would stand up for those who could not do so for themselves.
In the wake of Harvey and Irma, I am not sure what mom would have done in terms of distant outreach. I do know that she would have taken extra care to remind us to be grateful for what we have and to appreciate the fears and sensitivities of those around us.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.