"I was born gifted. I can speak of my gifts with little or no modesty, but with tremendous gratitude, because because they are gifts, and not things which I created, or actions about what I might be proud.
"My greatest gift, given to me by forces which confound genetics, environment, race, or ambition, is a singing voice. desire to share that voice, and the bounties it has heaped upon me, with others. From that combination of gifts have developed an immeasurable wealth – a wealth of adventures, of friendships, and of plain joys. "
With these words, Joan Baez begins her second memoir, And A Voice to Sing With. Few women are as talented as Joan Baez and fewer still have used their talents to promote peace, non-violence, and civil rights. Baez is one of Rosie's Daughters – women born during World War II who owe much of their courage, strength and accomplishment to the legacy of Rosie the Riveter (their spiritual, figurative and literal mother).
While the lessons of childhood teach us that it is better to give than receive, Baez's words are an elegant reminder to be thankful of the gifts we have received. Particularly the intangible gifts – the life gifts. Further, we do not have to be famous to recognize our life gifts and strive to use them in the best ways possible.
My father gave me one of my greatest life gifts. He held firmly to the "glass is half full" theory. No matter what happened, he would either find something good about the situation or at least acknowledge that it could have been worse. His mother, in turn, cave him this gift of a positive life perspective.
This story about my grandmother captures the lengths she could go to find the positive. It's a story that's been retold in my family many times over the years. One evening, the conversation in the living room turned to the subject of Grandmother's brother. Everyone in the room criticized him. Well, almost everyone. He was a gambler and a drunkard judged some. Others said he was "just no good." After many criticisms had been expressed, Grandmother quietly and firmly said, "But he was a really good milker." She found the positive in the glass of her brother's life.
I'm grateful for this life gift. I'm not sure I have always put the gift to good use but it has influenced me and shaped my perspective on life. It has enabled me to speak generously of others and to look for what good can come of situations. I can not take credit for this view of life. It is the legacy of the gift my father gave me.
My mother, too, brave me a gift. Her legacy to me came directly from Rosie the Riveter. The poster of this iconic World War II woman carries the caption, "We Can Do It." As a teenager I'd mention a career I was considering, and Mother always responded, "You can do it." It did not matter whether I was considering becoming a minister, a geologist, or a lawyer. She never once said, "No." She always said, "You can do it."
Mother's life gift to me was significant, even if something of a mixed message. Like Joan Baez, I am a Rosie's Daughter, part of the small generation of women born during World War II. The literal message from our mothers was, "You can do it … if you ever need to." They fully expected our primary role to be that of wife and mother. But they encouraged our education. Their gift to us sowed the seeds for our accomplishments. It enabled us to achieve many "firsts" (as in First Woman To) that our mothers could never have imagined. My appreciation for that gift is deep.
What are your life gifts? To find them, you must look deep – down to the very essence of your strength and your attitudes about life. What makes you, you? Studying hard, racking up degrees, or working long hours and receiving a promotion or pay increase are not gifts. You earned these successes and can take credit for your achievement.
Think instead of the gifts received. You may have been born with your gift. It may be part of your DNA. Your gift also may come from a parent, a sibling or a friend as a life-altering phrase oft heard or as an act of strength or generosity that touched you to the core. A life gift shapes your life. Once you identify yours, celebrate your life gifts and make them a conscious focus of living each day.