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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Bricks to Infinity (After Two Years)

A donation with more than one meaning.

August 13, 2015

I have always been intrigued by the idea of “infinity.” Not only does infinity describe the distance beyond a number, it also describes, in a different way, the distance between two numbers. I found myself thinking of this recently when I contributed a donation to Ursuline’s effort to rebuild the gym that was destroyed by a tornado two years ago this summer. My contribution was to purchase two bricks that will reside in a patio of a shrine being constructed adjacent to the new gym, a shrine dedicated, in the spirit of our newfound status as a member of Division II of the NCAA, to “Our Lady of Victory.”

I was inspired to purchase the bricks by an idea I have heard in several contexts that claims that, as long as one’s name is spoken, a person has not truly died. My dad was the first to tell me this, as he reflected on this idea once held by the ancient Egyptians as my family and I drove to see the collection of art found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1979. He pointed out that here we were, in the United State, saying the name of “King Tut” as we drove in our modern versions of chariots. He suggested that perhaps this was evidence that the Egyptian belief in immortality had some credibility. And I thought I was the family member who could be most heretical!

When the option to purchase bricks for the shrine near Ursuline’s new gym was made available, I knew that it would be a way to preserve the memory of the two other people in the car that day. And so I bought one for both my sister and my mother. I hoped that this would keep their names alive for, while perhaps not forever, at least for a long time into the future (barring more tornadoes.) In a move very out of character for a professor who pinches pennies and wears clothes bought decades ago, I donated some money and purchased bricks in their memory.

Of course, I wanted to put their names on the bricks, but I also wanted to memorialize them in an appropriate manner. For my sister, I used a line from a song that had been special for the two of us. As she was an amazing person who had seemed to always live in my shadow, the theme song from “Beaches” held a special place in both of our hearts. Along with her name and years of birth and death, I had the words “…You were my hero…” engraved on her brick. As for my mother, I recall that she was rather proud of my role as a professor at Ursuline, and that she liked to tell people that I was the chair of a Mathematics department, not understanding that such a position was not as glamourous as it might sound. Recalling that she taught me to read long before I entered kindergarten and that we spent many evenings in high school bonding over Algebra problems, for her I added to her name and years the line “My first teacher.”

My daughter and I will create rubbings of those bricks next week, with plans to frame them and give them to my father and brother in law. As I make plans to do that, I am left wondering what I would want on a brick, should someone someday create one for me. And so, I ask my readers, what would you want engraved on such a brick that is designed to bring your name far into the infinite future?


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