Celebrating an extraordinary ordinary person

My aunt taught me to embrace each moment, faith and family, and make each person you meet feel like the most important person in the world

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. Aug. 11, 2016/ Troy Media/ – My family recently said goodbye to our 92-year-old Aunt Mary. She had a profound impact on me, and on my wife and children. I hope every family has at least one Aunt Mary.

On the surface, she seemed quite ordinary. She had four children and was a nurse. She didn’t win any national awards and she lived a middle-class lifestyle.

So what was so special about her?

It’s said that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Aunt Mary had a particular way of making each person feel special. She had an effervescent personality and a strong New Jersey accent.

I always remember her saying, “How are ya? Good to see ya, hun!” And when I talked with her, she would look right at me and say, “Yah, yah, yah.”

Today, we call this being mindful. She was fully present in the moment and fully present for each person. I imagine this served very well in her work as a nurse. People simply heal better when they know someone cares.

How did Aunt Mary get this way? She was born in Paterson, N.J., to poor Syrian refugees who had eight children and lost everything in the Great Depression. She became possibly the first Syrian-American registered nurse. Then, at the age of 57, she returned to school to earn a university degree.

Aunt Mary had a wonderful family, three boys and a girl, all of whom earned advanced university degrees. Beneath the surface, however, her family life had its challenges, especially when she lost her youngest son to AIDS. Still, nothing could extinguish her peace.

Part of Aunt Mary’s secret was her outgoing personality. But personality only gets us so far. We need to develop depth of character to withstand all the challenges that life throws our way. We need to be able to embrace every moment, to be fully present, to respond effectively rather than to react with raw emotion. We need to have the confidence to know that in the end, all will be well, regardless of how the situation may look at the moment.

Aunt Mary’s strength clearly came from a deep and profound faith. She had a very beautiful and loving relationship with her God that she reflected onto everyone whom she met. She dedicated a great deal of time and energy to her Catholic religion. She loved going to daily mass and bringing communion to the sick. She loved to pray the Rosary. Her devotion to prayer likely explains her mindfulness, for this is a quality of mystics in any religion.

Aunt Mary was very proud of who she was and where she was from. She smiled as she declared that her husband was in the same Paterson Eastside High School graduating class as Larry Doby, the first African American to play baseball in the American League (Jackie Robinson was the first to play in the National League).

I never heard Aunt Mary judge anyone, regardless of who they were, where they were from, what religion they followed or didn’t follow, or the choices they made. She could see and celebrate the good in everyone.

I will always have happy memories when I think of my dear Aunt Mary, and thoughts of her will remind me of what is really most important in life. Embrace each moment, faith and family, and make each person you meet feel like the most important person in the world, because in the eyes of God, that is what they are.

Gerry Chidiac is the grandchild of Syrian refugees. He is a high school teacher and a writer living in Prince George, B.C. Gerry is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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