What do we do?
What do we do when the problems of the world, of America, of our city, our street, tear at our hearts and our souls, waking us up in the middle of the night and appearing before our eyes and our ears in a constant drumbeat?
What questions should we be asking ourselves?
How do we respond to the struggle for justice and behave in a way that honors those in our immediate circle and humanity at large?
One was tall and rail thin; you could feel her breastbone when you hugged her. Grandma Alta worked at my uncle’s funeral home. She actually lived in the back of the funeral home and took care of “night calls.” As she used to say, “death doesn’t have a wristwatch.” There was a field of rhubarb that grew behind her apartment during the waning days of the summer. She made the best strawberry rhubarb pies I have ever tasted. I don’t remember her ever sitting down. She was alternately making piecrusts, consoling families at the funeral home, or knitting scarves for the indigent families that came to the social service agency where she volunteered.
My grandma Bernice was round and soft and cuddly. She worked as a secretary for thirty-five years at the Union Pacific Railroad in downtown Omaha. The only time I ever saw her sitting down was when she was tatting lace to go around the pillowcases she made for gifts. Tatting. Who ever does that now? But I have her pillowcases wrapped in tissue in my linen closet. They still smell of the lavender she tucked in between the folds. She gardened, sewed, and gave away everything she made. She was beloved by all the neighborhood children. She was forever helping others.
During my first semester of college I decided to take a philosophy course.
I came back for the Christmas holidays clutching my copies of Kant and Hegel. I was nineteen years old and felt that I knew much more about the world than my Midwestern grandmas. I conveniently forgot that they were alive for the end of WWI, the Spanish flu, the Depression, and WWII, just to name a few major events in world history.
As I watched my grandmother Alta roll out the dough for a holiday pie I decided to ask her the big question. I didn’t really expect an answer. I was a classic nineteen- year- old college freshman snot. “Grandma what is our purpose in life?” She looked me straight in the eye. She understood my condescension. She put her rolling pin down and dusted off her hands. She leaned over until her face was right in front of mine. “That’s easy. To make yourself useful.”
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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