It is my mother’s pen knife (pictured above) that I hold most dear among the items I selected when my family members and I were disposing of her belongings. Because she used it every day: to open mail and adult-proof bottles, to cut out a coupon from the paper, to move a reluctant button through its hole. Her hands touched it. This pen knife made her life manageable in the small ways that nourished and her independence. It lived on her kitchen counter, within easy reach – perhaps dating to her eighties or her nineties, when her twisted, arthritic fingers were not up to the job. I found it where she left it when she for the hospital with a broken ankle.

Mom raised me to make myself useful, although my ideas about that, and my actions have changed over the years: change the diaper, change the oil, change my viewpoint, change my pig-headed idea. Change how I look. Change how things look. Change how things are. Change the world in small and large ways.

These days, here’s how I make myself useful:  I choose my words, my tone, my intention deliberately. Sharpened to the needs of the moment. To open a heart, soothe a vulnerability, set a boundary, fix responsibility, validate a feeling, challenge a lie.  To seal a bond or break a connection.

God spoke the universes into existence. I choose my words to keep them spinning for the common good.

How do you make yourself useful for the common good?


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  1. This is a beautiful, and for me, timely, post. Thank you, Sara. I’ve shown it to a few friends and to a one, they smile and say what they have kept of their mother’s and why. My mom died just shy of a year ago now, and I’ve found myself pulled to wear a ring (when I hardly ever wear jewelry) she gave me, an impulse buy when we were out shopping together. It reminds me of her and a lovely day we had together. It makes me feel like she’s with me as I go through my day. Thank you for your lovely writings. Deb

    • Sweet to hear about your mom in this way…I remember the loving piece you wrote about her at the end of her life.

  2. I love this post. I am doing these things. And learning to accept the consequences of my presence.

    • “Learning to accept the consequences of my presence” – powerful! Thanks for this, Lisa

  3. After reading your essay, my mind went in a different direction and I thought I would share. After my mother passed away I was going through her things to take some “memories”home with me. Going through her purse, something that tells so much about the woman who carries it, I found a small tape measure that I recognized her having for at least 20 years, One of those freebies that was imprinted with a company name and given away as advertising. It brought back so many shopping trips with her when we would question if something would fit, clothes, furniture, draperies… any thing and everything. My mom was not a person to leave things to chance, and always kept things in order. Her purse always weighed a ton, and we would tease her about what she carried in it. Out of all the things I chose to take with me, the tape measure was one that got the most use, and also served to remind me at times that checking the measurements of things can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Thanks for reminding me of those thoughts today.

    • Delightful to read, Patti. How large loom the “small” gifts from our mothers!

  4. It was lovely to see the image that greeted me when I opened your post this morning. Of course I recognized it immediately. And resonate with every shade and aspect of the narrative you relate about the part it played in sustaining Mom’s independence and innate creativity.

    Like you, for me not only my choice of words but also and powerfully, tone of voice and conscious intention have become primary tools in my offerings to my world, great and small. You ask a great question. It may be THE question of the moment for each one of us.
    With thanks and love, Mukta

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