Monday, October 25, 2021

Lessons from Mom

"There is a strange moment in time, after something horrible happens, when you know it's true, but you haven't told anyone yet." ~Barbara Kingsolver

There is usually a line between the personal and professional worlds, not to be crossed. But one of the things that I love about the museum sector is how relational it is. When we thrive, it is because of the relationships we form, the collaborations we develop, and the genuine way that we care about each other and our work. It feels personal. So here I am, walking through that invisible barrier that screams DO NOT CROSS. 

Last weekend my Mom died. She's had Alzheimer's for years now and so our grief is not that of a sudden, unexpected passing. It has been long and ongoing and is now paired with a strange and uncomfortable sense of relief that she is finally at peace. This does not make it easier to let her go.  

To quote Archer Wallace, "truly great [people] are humble; they think, not of themselves, but of the good they can accomplish." What has struck me over the past week is the breadth and depth of Mom's impact. Whether in her family circle, or as a teacher, tutor or volunteer, she loved and inspired everyone she met by her faith, kindness, patience, and gentle spirit. She lived her life by always asking how the world would be a better place because she was in it. And now, the memories and stories being shared are a testament to the power of this question and her desire to help others. These stories cover her childhood in Hill Grove, Digby County, her studies at Acadia University, her teaching days in southern New Brunswick, and the countless hours she spent on children's programs through Kingston Baptist Church. 

In addition to the therapy of writing and explanation this provides for my recent absence, Mom has a lot of lessons for museums. She was incredibly organized and could create detailed program plans that ensured success. She even wrote how-to manuals so that others could see and learn from the formulas she developed. If she was at the helm she made everyone else feel like their role was important and their contributions valued. If she was teaching or tutoring, she made sure those children felt safe and seen and supported. No matter what she was doing, she approached it with humility and a desire to serve. 

Likewise, great museums are not attention-seeking or self-serving. They look for ways to serve their communities, are attentive and good listeners and sincerely work to understand needs. Not only that, but they seek to understand the underlying causes and reasons for those needs so that they can provide healing and nurturing in deeper, richer ways. They work for positive change and aren't afraid to talk about the pain or issues that have brought communities to their current reality. When museums do this, word spreads and great reputations are built. Their relevance and value are understood and seen. Their humility becomes the great strength of sincerity.

My childhood is filled with memories of community service with Mom; quiet activities that helped those in need. She was adept at reading between the lines, hearing words not spoken, and seeing information not shared. She also rarely said no when asked to help with a cause. Individuals, families, and organizations benefited. How powerful could our museums be if we collectively sought to do the same? To be such attentive listeners that any time a need is voiced or concern expressed that we come together and ask how the museum can help? 

As I navigate my grief and a world without Mom, I can't help but think that I need to be more like her. I need to be attuned to the needs I am seeing and hearing, and listen to the little voice in my head that picks up on words not spoken. And I need to do this in both my personal and professional life. Museums exist to serve our communities. We too should be asking ourselves how the world will be a better place because we are in it.