Saturday, January 14, 2012


What essential qualities characterize you or me or those we love? As we each live out the uniqueness of our own individual nature, we eventually become representatives of those qualities, vivid living examples of how they manifest in form.

Recently I met with a group of my treasured women friends that have been gathering monthly for well over a decade. As agents of change for holistic wellness, we have each contributed our own particular skills and perspectives to each other and to those we serve. In the first step of the process of Beginning Anew, we took turns thoughtfully appreciating and articulating what each brought to the group.

In a poetic description, one described the group as a crown of jewels.
Another called it a Council of Mothers. In a moment of inspiration, one began to name each of us sitting on that Council with a defining quality: Mother Ritual, Mother Soul, Mother Clarity, Mother Compassion, Mother Qi, Mother Roots, Mother Ambassador, Mother Gentle, Mother Fertility, Mother Mother.

Although no one had thought to distill our essences in such a way before, it seemed perfectly fitting as soon as it had been done. We each contribute our own particular jewel within the collective crown of our gathered circle. Once we are gone, those that remember us carry the memory of our particular contribution to the whole.

Six months now since his passing, I continue to reflect on the defining qualities of my longtime husband and partner. As I recall his surefooted presence on this earth, one quality that stands out for me was his consistent confidence. Just as the structure of the word indicates, (con - with, fid - faith), he lived with faith, trusting in his perceptions and abilities and in the rightness of life as it unfolded before him.

He trusted that the beauty and intelligence of the universe provide an infinite source of perception and creativity. He perceived the subtleties of space, color and dimension and was attentive to the things that he could see and imagine, both real and yet to be realized. He trusted his mind and his hands that built, dug, painted, plastered, scraped, shaped, fixed & finessed countless things to transform material in creative ways.

As I reflect on how he lived his life - with eyes open, hands-on and an unwavering sense of inner guidance and intuition, I realize how much his quality of confidence has been a touchstone for me. But since confidence sometimes manifests as offensive arrogance, I take special note of the way his confidence was tempered by his humility. Yes, that was yet another remarkable quality he embodied: humility!

As with the word confidence, the origin of the word humility is telling, derived as it is from the Latin word "humus", the dark, decomposed, fertile earth. One who stays in touch with our transitory earthly nature - "from dust we come and to dust we shall return" - remains humble. He certainly was.

Humble confidence. Those essential qualities are part of his precious legacy to me and to our children. We were privileged to have experienced his living demonstration of them over several decades. Now, to honor his memory, I share them here with you. May his memory be a blessing and may we also be worthy to live with humble confidence.


  1. Shalom Laya.
    As always, I read your blog entry with great interest...sadness…warmth.
    Your words about Tom’s mixture of “confidence and humility” immediately reminded me of the term “Oz V’Anava” that is used in Hebrew for this idea.
    Just yesterday I read a Dvar Torah written by Yisrael Rosenberg on Parshat Shmot that mentioned the same thing. He writes that Moshe – as the humblest man ever – could not have led Am Yisrael with *just* that middah. He needed confidence, so things happened in a way that led him to be brought up in the household of Pharoah’s daughter, in royal fashion. Together, he was more complete and ready for his life’s mission.
    In a similar situation, he writes, was King David – in hindsight. He was the youngest of his siblings, and somewhat mistreated by his family, therefore he, too, needed some “royalty” to get him his self-confidence, so things happened in a way that Ruth – according to the Midrash the daughter of Eglon, King of Moav – was his great-grandmother. With these two “middot,” David was able to become a more complete person.
    Lastly, he brough another Midrash, which calls King David by the name of Adino HaEtzni. Using the words Adin = gentle, and Etz = tree, it says: “When he sat and studied Torah, he would make himself gentle as a worm; and when he went out to battle he would make himself tough as a tree.”
    Thank you, Laya, for both honoring Tom’s memory with such depth, and teaching us a lesson in Middot at the same time. For many of us, you and Tom as a team embody that same “surefooted presence” on the face of the earth. It’s one of those things that doesn’t stop working when a person dies. I think it’s everlasting. LaNetzach.
    Shavua Tov,

    1. Thank you, Michael. I am so touched. Your words are a wonderful reminder that the virtuous qualities (middot)of our spiritual heritage are contained within US and that WE can cultivate them and bring them out and live them in the present...the Biblical stories and ancient myths and texts show us how.

      Wish I could have seen you when you came to the USA! Hopefully next time - here or there.

  2. Confidence and humility - that certainly describes Tom. And it's pretty close to how your relationship and your amazing story together read to many like me - who loved each opportunity to share some time with you.

  3. Hi Elliot!

    I'm continuously amazed at how a blog can connect me with people I haven't spoken to in months (years, even!) Thank you for letting me know that you "hear" me.

    Since Tom's gone, I treasure every one that ever knew him, you included. I could never convey the fullness of who he was, but all of us who hold even some small piece of his memory carry him within us. More & more I see myself as a composite of all those who have influenced me and continue to live in me, even after they're gone. Blood & spiritual ancestors & the people we've you find that true for you too?

    1. I haven't really thought about how our selves are composited by all the important people in our lives. I get the image of a rock polisher. (I had an apartment-mate in college who had one whirring away in our front closet.) It churns and churns a bunch of rocks against each other and each rock's inner colors come out in a shine. But there must be a better image to capture the bigger influence and dialectic - from our kids and partner and best friends that we are with so much of the time.

      I do sometimes catch myself knowing that I am wearing a particular expression that my Mom had at times, only it's not just a look.... it's something from the inside-out.

      Wishing you a flood of sweet memories and focused insights as you continue your brave and soulful explorations this winter.

  4. Laya, I can't think of any two words that would better define "wholeness" than the combination of confidence and humility. I fear that if I become too confident that I will be too arrogant, and I fear that if I become too humble, I will become a doormat. But the two interwoven in one would be the "sweet spot" where wholeness finds its center in a person.

    Laya, I feel that you embody these two characteristics, also. You and Tom together formed that sweet spot that can be found in relationship.

    Blessings to you at this time.

  5. It has already been echoed by others who knew Tom, but I will add my voice to the chorus. You have indeed captured the essence of Tom's place on the crown. And, as I have said to you before, knowing Tom early in my life (at least it seems early now!) increased my confidence greatly.