When I teach Algebra, I often get a chuckle out of my students when I tell them to just “plug and chug” with an equation. What I mean is for them to substitute values of a variable into an equation and then to find the value the equation now represents. I have found myself thinking of this recently as I recall an equation that I once applied “plug and chug” to when I took a class in Quantum Physics in college. It was not just any equation, but perhaps the ultimate equation; the equation of Special Relativity discovered by Einstein. I find myself thinking of this equation recently because it implies a relationship between matter, energy and time that we do not always recognize. It is this equation that comes to mind as I anticipate a new writing project I intend to undertake in the next few weeks, one that I hope will bend time and perhaps even space for my little niece and nephew, both of whom will be too young to read what I plan to write for many years.
When my brother-in-law undertook the horrible job of sifting through my sister’s things after she died, he found a journal she had started for her two young children. In it she wrote that she knew that she would not get to see them grow up, nor would she get to attend their weddings, but she wanted them to know who she was and how much she loved them. Unfortunately, her battle with cancer progressed faster than any of us expected, and she never got to finish the journal. While I could never finish her journal for her (she was an amazing writer and my words could never match her own words), I have decided to assemble something for the two children to tell them about her. Indeed, I intend on calling it “Let Me Tell You About Your Mommy.”
I intend to use a collection of approaches to put together the books, one for each child (and perhaps a copy for my parents and my brother-in-law, too.) For the most part, it will be writing letters to the children about various topics from her life, such as “Let me tell you about a beautiful little girl and how she finally learned to walk” or “let me tell you about the people your mommy helped to heal.” However, I also intend to include some writing that I did in the past that relates to who she was. There is something that I wrote for her when she left for college to study Occupational Therapy called “The Healer”. We displayed a copy of that near her coffin and it may have been read by the eight hundred people who came to pay their respects at her wake. And then there is the toast I gave at her wedding, a copy of which hangs on the wall in her home.
I also want to include copies of the words to several songs that seem appropriate. There will, of course, be the words to the song “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” which was a special song between us through most of her life. And then there is a song that reappeared from a distant memory when I realized that she died on almost exactly the one year anniversary of being told by her doctor that she had about one year to live. With a refrain that sings “One More Year of Lollipops,” I think it accurately captures some of the horror my parents felt watching their baby girl die before their eyes.
After deciding to undertake this project, I learned that such a thing is very similar to what is known as an “Ethical Will,” or, simply “Legacy Letters.” I learned that such a project grew out of the Jewish tradition and has become more of a common practice in modern times. While I know that I can never write exactly what she would have wanted to tell her children, I believe that, as her only sibling, I am in the best position to try to capture her amazing life in a way that will help her children know her better.
Has anyone written or been the recipient of an Ethical Will and could offer suggestions to me as I begin what might be the most important thing I will ever write?