02/11/2014 06:48 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014


In the days after my father died, there were many quiet moments and many stories told. It was a small thing my mother said while crying over tea that allowed me to connect these small stories of my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father. I never realized that they form a legacy I'm a part of.


My great-grandfather was a leather
smith. He made saddles for a feudal
baron in Russia. Chased by Cossacks
into the Dnieper River, he was spared
because they didn't want their horses
to get cold. In America, he would say,
"When in trouble, wait till you see
a way out."

My grandfather was an out of work
printer in Brooklyn during the De-
pression. He'd bring strangers home
for dinner. When grandma would
pull him aside with "We don't have
enough," he'd kiss her cheek and say,
"Break whatever we have in half.
It will be enough."

Now, my 93-year-old father bobs
inside his stroke-laden body, and
my mother shakes her head, "I don't
know how he does it." She stares into
the trail of their lives, "No matter what
we faced, he'd always say, 'Give me a
minute, and I'll figure out what to do.'"

I braid their lessons into a rope I can
use: to see a way out, to know there
will be enough, to figure out what
to do. Standing still in the river,
till we are shown how to stay
alive and give.

A Question to Walk With: Describe one story or saying that comes from your birth family or your chosen family that has shaped your understanding of life.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.