23. Sandy Beckwith Kenny, aka my mom. Now, to say my mom was a major influence on my life would be quite the understatement, given that she actually gave me my life, but she has influenced me in countless other ways as well, all of which I am truly grateful.

The first thing to know about my mom is that everyone, everyone, loves her. She is one of the most kindhearted, creative and generous people you will ever meet and always has a smile and a kind word for anyone. She’s the one that writes a personalized poem for any special event in a person’s life, the one who will go out of her way to do a special favor for someone in need, the one who sends flowers, or cards, or cash or that gift that you mentioned just briefly, in passing, that you would like. We joke with her even now, that if we meet someone, and they mention they need a place to stay, she will ask them to move in with us. We lucked out growing up – we always had an open and welcoming home and we got to meet so many different and interesting people because of who she brought into our family life.

At almost 79, she is still really active. In fact, just this morning, I woke up (barely) to join her for her 6 am exercise class, the same one she has been attending for almost thirty years, the one she never misses – every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I walked home while she went on to have breakfast with some of the women from the class, also something she has done for almost that long, in addition to the weekly Wednesday morning breakfast she has with another crew, a group of friends that have been together for over fifty years. Even when we were younger, my mom was always out walking, exercising, planting, pruning, refinishing furniture, making home made bread, making holiday specific cupcakes (for halloween, cats with ears of candy corn and eyes of the very bottom piece of the candy corn and black licorice whiskers, for easter, baskets with red licorice handles, shredded coconut grass and jelly bean easter eggs). She doesn’t seem to have slowed down a bit, still reading for mass, going to book club, hosting dinner parties. I guess one thing that has changed is how much time she is on the computer – she’s a facebook junkie and also knows everything about everything from the world wide webs.

My mom taught me to love and appreciate nature and everything within it. She always knew every plant, every bird song and every tree. She taught us to love silence, and especially the last light of the evening – I call it the animal hour and I think of my mom whenever I notice that particular light, especially if I am in a place with lots of natural surrounding. Her love of nature extends to all God’s creatures, including human beings. She loves all people equally and has always taught us that people are worth loving and getting to know, irrespective of their background, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, or anything else. She connects deeply and easily with just about anyone.

She taught me about a love of pets and gave me the model of how I treat my animals – like a real part of the family. I would never leave my cat overnight with a pile of food in its dish, nor would I leave my dog in my backyard under the presumption that it would “run around.” No, my mom taught me that if you are going to have a pet, you treat it as you would any other friend, with real care and concern.

My mom and I have a lot of similarities in certain little things we do. We both have lots and lots of stacks of paper around our house or office, each pile having some sense of organization – if only to us. We both love language and love to write. We both love good food – my mom is an amazing cook – and we both like to look good, whatever that means to us. That’s another thing. “Looking good” to us is all about our own personal sense of style, not what any magazine or fancy Montclair lady might suggest looking good means. We both love love love love love the water and love to swim. We both love travel and are scrappy and adventurous. My mom is deeply spiritual, not just religious – although she is that too – and we connect on our living spiritual lives in a way that I do not with almost anyone else. She really gave me my first invitations to spiritual life and never impressed any rigid dogma on me. Only to be loving to all beings and to take time each week, at a minimum, to be reflective and to connect with God – in whatever form I might experience that.

My mom also taught us to believe in ourselves and to follow our dreams. She is always supportive of our risks and our creative endeavors and genuinely wants to know about what we are doing and thinking. None of us ever feel like we are stuck or feel pressure from her to be anything other than who we fully are.

My mom gave me life, but for some people that is the most of what their mom gave them. My mom gave me my life and gave me a life. She showed me what life is really about, and encouraged me to take full advantage of all its possibilities. I know I would never be the teacher I am, the friend I am, the therapist I am, the wife I am, the leader I am, the person I am, without my mom. I am so grateful for these last fifty years of her love and guidance in shaping who I am and the way I love people and life itself. I look forward to the continued unfolding of this shared miraculous journey with her – one of the best people I know and one of my own best friends.

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