Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: I am still learning from my mother.
My mother is eighty years old this month. And this edition of Learnings is dedicated to her.
Yesterday I received a letter from Mom containing a draft of the autobiography that she is writing for her children and grandchildren. She concludes by quoting from Psalm 16: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”
I had always thought that was Mom’s own line. As she has nudged and nurtured me through childhood and adulthood, she has frequently reminded me: “You have a goodly heritage.”
The American Heritage Dictionary says that heritage is: “something other than property passed own from preceding generations; legacy; tradition.”
The very first thing passed down to me was my name: Walter Painter Hopkins. It is one of the great joys – and greatest challenges – of my life that I bear the family names of both my parents.
When I was growing up I was occasionally jealous of friends who had things or opportunities that I did not have. When I complained about this to Mom, she said: “Different people have different extravagances.” I gradually realized that our family extravagances are travel and education. And these are part of our goodly heritage.
I grew up hearing stories of travel. (Mom’s Aunt Mary cruising along the coast of Norway) and stories of education (Mom’s father giving up his beloved teaching job to earn enough money to send all four daughters to college.
Later I began my own travels (the gift of a trip to Europe when I was twenty led directly to my living here now) and pursued my own education (by family tradition, loans for education are always available).
And now I am old enough for the real joy of a goodly heritage, I am providing support to nieces, nephews, and others for their travels and their education. A goodly heritage is a continuing heritage.
When I think of what I have learned from Mom, I think of her standing at the kitchen sink – listening to our stories and answering our constant question: “What can I do?”
Above that kitchen sink Mom has pinned a copy of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer. When I began drafting this newsletter I jotted down the prayer from memory. Then I looked up the correct version. The difference between the two versions helped me understand what I have learned from Mom.
My misquote went like this: “Grant me the courage to change the things that can be changed, the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The actual prayer is this:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
The first difference is that the prayer is not for serenity but for grace. Like a goodly heritage, grace is simply given – and if it is received then it provides serenity.
The second difference is even more striking. Courage is not for changing things that can be changed. Anyone can do that. Courage is for changing the things thatshould be changed. Since such things usually look as if they cannot be changed, it does require wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
In the Bertolt Brecht play Mother Courage and Her Children, one of the characters says that he is angry. Mother Courage points out that it is easy to be angry. The question is: how long are you willing to stay angry?
When my mother was in her twenties she was angry about the amount of money spent on war instead of peace. And she has stayed angry for sixty years.
When I was in my twenties I went downtown to a peace rally. At the train I met Mom – who was on her way to the same peace rally. In the past few years Mom and Dad have pursued their vision of world peace with visits – sometimes risky ones – to Russia, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Nicaragua.
Of course Mom does not look or sound angry. She does not even look courageous. She just looks like a kind white-haired lady. Which she is. But she is also a lot more than that. Her courage recalls another ancient term: witness. She would say, with Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other.”
When I was a teenager going out on dates, Mom always asked if I had a clean handkerchief, just in case the girl needed one. It has become almost a family joke now, but it is a perfect illustration of Mom’s blend of competence and concern. It is important to be concerned, but without the competence of actually having a handkerchief, the concern is wasted.
And so I keep on learning from Mom. It is important to carry a handkerchief when you go out on a date and it is important to care about peace when you go out into the world.
LEARNING: My mother’s grace, courage, and wisdom are a goodly heritage.