As I prepared this remembrance of my mother Sylvia, three things kept re-appearing in my heart and mind.
Singer, justice and ‘to thine own self be true’.
I knew my mom loved to sing and that she loved great music, especially classical music. I knew she sang faithfully in the Unitarian choir for many years and was an avid supporter of local orchestras. But I never thought of her as a singer. Maybe because I married into a family of singers. And it is interesting, so did my sisters Midge and Julie...My father-in-law Stan was a choir director and a tenor soloist. Tim’s dad Oliver also was a choir director and soloist. Julie married a choir director and soloist.
Our family growing up? We were more like the White Coral Bells singers. We sang in the Studebaker Car Trip Choir. (Sing) My heart is in Madison. If you want to be a Badger.
But my mom was a singer and her main song was to sing out against the injustice in our world. Her voice was not to be denied. Many of us knew her as the champion of the underdog. She was truly a guardian of justice for the poor, for the sick and the put out. Professionally, politically, personally. When we were little kids, each Halloween, before we went trick or treating, we went trick or treating for UNICEF, collecting change for the world’s hungry children. We religiously cleaned our plates of welsh ‘rabbit’ (cheese sauce on toast) each night as we stood in solidarity with the starving children in China. In our little corner of the world where a person of color was a whiter shade of pale, we hosted the first black Africans ever to visit Duluth. (Well, at least I assume that they were the first. I mean why would other Africans have visited Duluth before 1959? )
Whenever the powerful preyed upon the powerless, Sylvia was there to protest and protect them.
Our dad Sig was a gracious, kind, funny human being. Her marriage to him was warm and loving. Tib and Sig were Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke or more like Lucy to German-Norwegian Desi.
Sig’s life verse, taken from Shakespeare, was: “To thine own self be true.” I’m not sure if Tibby had fully formed this maxim for herself before she became a widow at the age of 46. But she soon reinvented herself, reclaiming her given name—Sylvia—and threw herself into her challenging work as a special education teacher in one of the toughest schools in Minneapolis. She joined Women Against Military Madness. she gathered a couple close friends and began to adventurously travel the world.
And she stayed true to herself her whole life, holding her glass of beer high on more than one occasion, proposing an old Woodhouse toast: To our noble selves.
She held out hope that we would choose to be our most noble selves, though she was at times, disappointed by our slow-wittedness. (Pause)
As her first-born son, I will say what we all know, that my mom’s contentiousness did not always make for peaceful cocktail parties. She was not a perfect person, and this was disturbing to many of her friends and family--who are. ☺
But her quirky bouts of exasperation and rampages against the war and money machines of this world were sincere and guided by genuine compassion and conviction that the powers of this world must be overthrown; that the nobility of the individual soul was our only hope.
If you disagreed with her politics or ideology, you could be quickly forgiven if you would quietly recant or mumble a disclaimer over dinner.
I love how our son Ry described her: “Nain (grandmother in Welsh) is a ‘protester’-- not a bleeding-heart liberal, not an idealist about the human condition. No. She is much too realist for that. Nain is a protester against what St. Paul called "the elemental powers of the universe" -- the powers that produce and sustain the structures of death and destruction in this world. … Nain is a protester precisely because she believes that to live a truly human life in this world can only mean to live and to work and to struggle and even to die alongside those who are crushed, those who are made nothing by these powers. Nain is a protester on behalf and in solidarity with the voiceless, the nameless, the loveless, the sick, the diseased, (those we have labeled) "disabled," "retarded," the excluded, the lost, the poor…'
It has never been for her a question of political ideology…Nain is a protester because she believes everyone should be treated like a fully ‘human being’…for me, Nain embodies this kind of humanness in a singular way -- a humanness defined by a love that gives itself away -- a humanness whose whole mode of being is determined by a certain kind of prayer, a certain kind of deep groaning that is indeed "too deep for words" as Paul says in his letter to the Romans. In other words, to me, Nain's whole life is something like a parable of the kingdom of heaven. And, indeed, what a grace she is to me. I love you, Nain.”
In her life, Sylvia showed us a way to live. She sang with her whole heart. She stood up and she spoke out of her strong convictions. And then as she got sick, she offered a great gift when she showed us courage as she died. An independent woman who possessed an indomitable will, she courageously chose to let go and to let others lead her in the dance as she died.
Because Sylvia remained true to her inner truth, she showed me a way to live and die, and I will always love her for her noble self.
On the front of your program is a work of art by her grandchild Nora, including a quote from an ancient Chinese proverb: One Generation plants the trees, another gets the shade.
Sylvia leaves us with an invitation. Beloved, sing your song. Defend the orphan and the widow. To thine own self be true. Sing your song with your whole heart. Sing your song.