Some of you may remember a previous article in which I described a venerable 94-year-old woman, Mrs. Ceil Cash, whose superb character and faith served as an illustration for a point I was trying to make.
Sadly, since that time, Mrs. Cash has passed away. She had prayed that she might go peacefully in her sleep and her petition was blessedly granted. Having no biological children of her own, she was nonetheless, fortunate to have left this world surrounded by her adopted children -- members of our community who, over time had come to love and respect her for the special matriarchal presence she provided.
The funeral procession stopped at the Yeshiva school she had generously supported, where all the children whom she loved so dearly stood outside in a blistering cold wind to bid her farewell. It was obvious that the children were genuinely saddened and grief stricken.
My husband was asked to deliver the eulogy and had to stop frequently during his tribute to compose himself. He spoke of the mandate by which Mrs. Cash had lived her life. He cited her oft-repeated mother's exhortation, "Remember my darling daughter that your deeds should never bring shame on your holy ancestors in heaven." Her mother's words did indeed chart Mrs. Cash's course in life.
Some people were surprised at my husband's display of emotion at the funeral -- She was after all, 94-years-old and not a blood relative.
Interestingly, there were some people who were surprised at my husband's display of emotion at the funeral. She was after all, 94-years-old and not a blood relative.
Upon learning of this reaction, my husband addressed the issue on the following Shabbos during his sermon. He observed that the very astonishment itself spoke to a lamentable loss of feeling and emotion in our times, and that we seem unable to form attachments to anything that would be cause for grieving. He then went on to explain what was really at the heart of his deep sense of loss.
SHE APPRECIATED EVERYTHING
Customarily, he related, Mrs. Cash would eat weekly at our Shabbos table. She loved the atmosphere, the words of Torah, the songs, and especially relished the inspiring stories of the Chassidic Masters that my husband would tell during the "Tish" (the Shabbos repast).
My husband stated that Mrs. Cash's uniqueness was in her capacity to express appreciation and gratitude for things that others take for granted.
"That was such an inspiring story," she would say, "that was such a heartwarming song ... you create such a spiritual environment." Her warm eyes sparkled and her bright smile confirmed her words. She took advantage of every opportunity to compliment, affirm and validate others. Everyone mattered in her eyes.
A young friend, who on one occasion had spent a weekend with her, told me of the following incident:
Mrs. Cash had started to carry a bag of garbage to the alley. Her young friend protested insisting that she be allowed to do it instead. Mrs. Cash refused, and, since neither would relent, they decided to take it out together. Just then the garbage truck appeared and one of the men took the bag from Mrs. Cash's hands. She looked up at him and said, "Thank you very much sir." To which he replied, "I am not a sir, I am just a garbage man."
She looked at him and stated most emphatically, "You work hard, you make an honest living, you are definitely a sir."
She looked at him and stated most emphatically, "You work hard, you make an honest living, you are definitely a sir." My friend remarked that she saw the garbage man straighten up proudly and virtually grow a few inches right in front of her eyes.
One of the most important lessons that Mrs. Cash's life confirmed is that all of us need a good word. All of us can use a pat on the back, an acknowledgement of our worth and an affirmation that we make a difference. All of us benefit from a smile -- a ray of sunshine in our lives to brighten our down days and dreary moments.
IT DOESN'T TAKE MUCH
Mrs. Cash provided that energy for us and that's why her absence is so painful. She leaves us an incredibly rich legacy of wisdom and love. She taught us that this much needed recognition can be given and that it doesn't take all that much.
We just need to remember that the person next to us is much the same as ourselves. They too have feelings and needs and are, as we are at times, very vulnerable. We should demand of ourselves to do as she did, to think what we can do or say to somehow make others more equal to life and its challenges.
Indeed, we grieve over the loss of a person who let us know we mattered. And for that reason, Mrs. Cash will forever matter to us.