01/27/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Receiving and Giving, Minute by Minute


Adelaide Reisler Yanow, left, pictured with Judge James Moran, gave to family and friends throughout her 93 years of life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Moran.

I've written a lot the past few years about the abundance of gifts I have been privileged to receive.

Gifts large and small that arrive in ordinary and extraordinary moments.

A loving wife, and a son who has grown into a man I am proud to know.

Good health.

Active parents whose desires to live a meaningful life still beats strong.

Close relations with my brothers, sister-in-law and nephew on our side of the family, and love for all of the folks on Dunreith's side.

Work that is a source of passion and meaning, and that regularly provides opportunities for collaboration with my brother.

Financial stability.

A circle of friends.

A clearer sense of how I want to live during my time on the planet.

Extraordinary opportunities for travel.

I could go on and on, and you get the idea.

More recently, though, I've been reflecting on what I can give.

I'm not say this is the first time I've ever thought of how to help people.

Rather, it's a deepening understanding of the potential all of us have, at every moment, to contribute to others, to help bring some measure of healing or insight or strength to those with whom we are fortunate enough to spend our days.

Some opportunities are more clear than others.

Dunreith and I attended a memorial service on Monday for Adelaide Reisler Yanow, mother of our friend Wendy Yanow, who died last week at age 93 (Addie had only retired four years from her position at the federal court before her passing, and, as the cantor officiating the ceremony noticed, held as a point of pride that she had been offered another position.)

I didn't see Addie a lot, but spent enough time around her to appreciate her indomitable spirit, her fierce and loving generosity, and her simple encouragement that has stayed with me.

Dunreith, Aidan and I moved to Evanston from Easthampton so that I could pursue my writing passion.

In 2003, I had my first byline in the Chicago Tribune's Perspectives section.

It was a piece offering an assessment of Dr. King's 1966 campaign in Chicago to end slum housing conditions.

The effort, King's first in a northern city, had widely, if not unanimously, been labeled a failure.

I challenged that viewpoint and suggested that there were gains that had been achieved, even if the central objective had not been accomplished.

Addie complimented me on the article, her eyes glowing as she spoke.

It was a time when I was a bit like a foal, struggling to find my writing legs.

Her words, and the knowledge that this straight-talking, lifelong Chicagoan would let me know if she had thought otherwise, bolstered me and gave me strength.

This action was typical, we heard over and over again during the service.

Addie's grandson, Max Antman, a family friend whose mother had been close with Addie for 70 years, and a former law clerk of Judge Moran, the man with whom she worked for the last 28 years of her career, all rose to paint a consistent portrait of a fun-loving, compassionate, funny, strict and incessantly giving woman who lived, as Max said, a magnificent life.

Death is a natural and inevitable partner to life, so it's hard not to feel gratitude for a woman who was such a marvelous model and who created so many warm memories.

Those feelings were there, to be sure.

But still, no matter when it comes, the loss of a parent cuts deep.

I've seen this during the past four years, as Dunreith has come to terms with the death first of her father Marty in 2010, and then her mother Helen about 18 months later.

Wendy and her sisters were feeling that pain.

Dunreith and I dressed up, drove to Weinstein Funeral Home in Wilmette, joined the receiving line, hugged and shook hands and expressed condolences that we knew could not eliminate the pain.

But we also knew that our presence was a balm.

In this moment the possibility to give was readily apparent.

In others, it's less so.

But that doesn't make its importance any less.

Doing so effectively comes from listening and feeling where another person is, thinking about what they are dealing with in their lives, and offering what we can to help.

In some cases the gift can be a touch on the arm, an appreciative laugh, an understanding smile.

At other times, it's words of witness and affirmation.

I'm more grateful than ever for all that I have received.

But I'm as grateful for the moment by moment opportunities to give, too.