A Legacy of Simple Moments
Do you ever stop and wonder what people will think of your life? What they do think of your life?
A few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. As usual in times like these, my family has spent a lot of time thinking about my grandmother’s life. Her legacy. And in one of the times we gathered together to mourn her passing and celebrate her life, I was asked to give a tribute.
It’s interesting to me because I sit here at my keyboard and write…a lot! I write blog posts, I write Adventures Around the World, I write emails… And while some things take longer than others, I enjoy writing. Words seem to come pretty easy to me – lots of words (as my husband will attest to!).
This was harder than anything else I’ve had to write in a really long time.
You see, it’s not just about the facts and figures of my grandmother’s life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I mention her birthday and the day that she passed away, but it’s more than that.
It’s deeply personal and it’s more about what happened in between those two dates than about those two dates that mark the beginning and the end of her life here on earth.
I remember a professor in college putting it this way: Someday, when you die, there will be two dates etched on your gravestone: The date of your birth and the date of your death. But in between those two dates, there will be a little line, a little dash. What will you do with your dash?
It’s quite a sobering question isn’t it?
And, if we’re being honest, it’s a really heavy question, too!
But as I’ve been piecing together what I’m going to say about my grandmother, I realized something quite amazing: Her life made a positive impact on others in all the little things.
A Teacher at Heart
My grandma was a teacher. Woven through every fiber of her being was a desire to learn and a desire to help others learn. She graduated from high school in 1943 and started teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. (Yup, I seem to come by my love of one room schoolhouses genetically!)
She taught her students from Kindergarten through 8th grade through the frigid Michigan winters with only a wood stove to keep the schoolhouse warm. A wood stove that she had to arrive early to get going so it would be warm enough in the room when her students arrived.
But she wasn’t content with just a high school diploma. Even as she continued teaching, she was going to school and got her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree in education.
And yet, it wasn’t the college degrees that defined her teaching career. Oh, on paper she had great qualifications! But the students who came through her classroom didn’t remember the degrees she held or the square hat she wore as she walked across the stage to receive her honors.
They remember her kindness. They remember the time she took to make sure her students understood the material being taught. They remember her seeing each student as an individual. They remember the lilacs on her desk in the springtime. They remember how she created a safe space where they could be free to learn.
And they remember that she was there.
My grandma taught in the same school, taught the same grade (4th grade), and even had the same classroom for decades! She was there for the long haul and her students knew it!
In fact, not only did my grandma have the privilege of teaching countless sets of siblings as they grew, but she started teaching some of the children of her students! (Years later, of course!)
But she was there. She was there not for the teacher’s salary. Not for the glory. But because she loved her students. She loved teaching. And she wanted to see her students succeed.
A Teacher’s Heart Never Fades
But time marches on. And after almost 40 years of teaching, my grandma retired…
And yet she didn’t retire…
Teaching was so close to Grandma’s heart that she could never truly stop teaching. It just took a different form.
The season of her life had changed, but the purpose and the desire to help others learn was still very much a part of her life.
Over the years, Grandma had countless conversations with people: She talked with younger teachers that she was able to advise and share her years of wisdom with. She talked with parents who were trying to help their child through a tough learning spot in school. She talked with grandparents who were concerned about their grandchildren and wanting to help them learn in a way that made more sense to the child.
But one of the things she loved most was talking to her grandchildren (myself included) as we started homeschooling our children, her great-grandchildren.
I think these conversations, more than anything else, brought back those memories of starting her teaching career in a one room schoolhouse. Because homeschooling multiple children truly is like teaching in a one room schoolhouse! You’re teaching multiple children who are all at a different grade level.
And yet, no matter who you were. No matter what your background, one of the first – and most important – questions my grandma would ask was this:
How are they doing on their reading?
You see, she knew the importance of reading. She knew that no matter how skilled the teacher, no matter how intentional you are in teaching, one teacher cannot teach a student everything they need to know about everything. However, if a teacher can teach a student how to read and how to read well, they’ve given them the biggest weapon they possibly could: The weapon that will unlock any subject the student wants to know about. The weapon of knowing how to read and how to read well.
And so my grandmother would constantly ask about how each child’s reading was coming along.
Let’s Be Real
Now, before you get this idea that my grandmother lived some sort of idyllic life where all she had to focus on was teaching, know this: She had a family at home. A family of 5 kids. And she lived on a farm!
Yes, teaching was a very important part of her life, but she also had growing children to cook for and feed. There was laundry to do, children to take care of, a house to clean, life lessons that needed to be taught, and all the daily things that happen in a regular home.
Not to mention that in living on a farm there was a garden to plant and weed, chickens to be fed, eggs to be gathered, farm chores to be done, cows to milk and more!
Before I go on, I want you to know something: My grandmother wasn’t some sort of super-human. Oh, I think she was a pretty special lady, but she wasn’t born with super-human powers that allowed her to move at warp speed or with Mary Poppins’ snapping power that could clean up a room with just a click of your fingers. (Although, what mom hasn’t dreamed of having that power?)
My grandma was a regular human being. She had limitations like the rest of us. She wasn’t perfect. She made her fair share of mistakes. She tried many things and failed. She tried many things and succeeded.
But there was one thing that set her apart: She cared about the people around her. She loved her family and her students. And she showed her love in tangible ways.
It’s the Little Things that Count
And that brings us back to the dash. To what she did with her life that made it so special. It wasn’t any one grand, enormous gesture or event that defined her life. It wasn’t some incredible, amazing discovery that allowed her name to be written in the history books of the world.
Her life was defined in the little moments. Her life made a positive impact on others in all the little things.
She made a choice to care about people individually. She made a choice to stop and chat with people – no matter their age – and get to know them. She made a choice to help others learn and to share the wisdom she had learned through the years.
And she made a choice to spend her life loving on others. Whether that was teaching in a classroom, having a conversation over a cup of tea, making cookies with her grandchildren, sewing a quilt just so she could give it away, or singing and playing the piano to teach someone the songs she sang as a little girl. She impacted others in a big way through little things.
As I sit back and look over the almost 4 decades that I had to know my grandmother, there are ways that I can see I want to be like her. One of the biggest ways is how she used the little everyday moments to impact others in a big way.
Can you relate?
Oh, I get it: It’s so easy to feel inconsequential when it feels like all you’re doing is staying at home, changing the hundredth diaper of the day, cleaning up yet another mess, reading that Sandra Boynton book for the countless time, going over the lesson again and again, trusting that one of these times it will eventually sink in!
It’s easy to feel like you have nothing great to offer when you aren’t making a huge discovery or writing the next great American novel or chasing your dreams of competing in the Olympics…
But what you do does matter.
All those little moments. All those everyday things you do to show love to others. All the things you do to care for others. They matter.
So don’t despise the little things. Don’t hate the everyday moments. Instead, learn to embrace the everyday moments and use them as a way to care for and show love to others.
You just might be surprised how much your simple moments impact others and create a legacy you could never comprehend.
For my Grandma, Ruthella Marie Musil (May 31, 1926 – April 20, 2022). Thank you for living your life in a way that your dash stands for a legacy through the simple, everyday moments of life.
- The One Room Schoolhouse Approach
- 3 Paralyzing Myths and How To Overcome Them
- How To Make Reading Fun and Interesting
- The Changing of the Seasons of Life
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.