While vacationing in northern Minnesota, we take an early morning walk down a country road. We note changing weather, the sound of birds, an eagle flying high, the beauty of a leaping dear across the field. After just about a mile, we turn around at a well-cared-for cemetery, a reminder to make the most of each day. We’ve been reading Herbert Brokering’s book, I Will to You: Leaving a Legacy for Those You Love, a whimsical calling forth of the words, memories, and traits that we want to pass on to our loved ones.
We reflect after breakfast of homemade whole wheat bread and Swedish coffee on what’s going on in the world, what’s important, the family. This summer spot is also the final resting place of our parents, reminding us of their legacy of care for others and God’s creation shared in words and lives.
Mom, so concerned about nuclear proliferation and America’s violent responses, at the age of 78 stepped into a boat with my brother in the chilly Puget Sound, protesting against the Trident nuclear submarine. “It’s because I love my country that I want to correct her,” she said to a journalist. When they arrested her on those waters and brought her to court, reporters asked, “Why did you, an American Mother of the Year, commit civil disobedience?” Without a moment’s hesitation, mom said, “I did it for the children of the world.”
Several years later, a doctor informed her of a fast-growing malignant tumor. She was just finishing her last book, A Grandma’s Letter to God. She shared this response:
Now I want to witness to what it means to trust you (God) in such a time, with such a problem. I want to tell the world what freedom there is in being able to say, “Whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.” I love life, Lord, and if you should give me more time, I want to be about your business. I want to challenge my beloved country to put its trust in you, not in nuclear bombs. I want to challenge people everywhere to be stewards of what you’ve given them—and for those of us who have been given so much to share our skills and resources and love with those who have so little. What a world that would be—the kind you meant it to be! But, God, if this is the time you tap me on the shoulder, what anticipations are mine!
What a legacy. Each of us will leave some kind of legacy. Makes me want to use the time and opportunities I have left to be about God’s work of justice and community.
Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.