It is Day 4 of my 365 Days of Living Deliberately. I spent most of the day helping my friend and her eleven-year-old grandson. They have been in the midst of a family crisis situation for some time now, and I have been a large part of an evolving solution. In another difficult situation today, my sister, Victoria, spent time helping a friend who just learned she has bone cancer. Living deliberately isn’t always about what we want for ourselves.
For Victoria and me and for most people who care about others, living deliberately means that we deliberately help others, especially when they are in need. Victoria cleaned her friends’s home, put food in the refrigerator, and picked her up from the doctor.
Victoria and I come naturally by wanting to help others. Our mother, Harriet Lehman, was a role model to Victoria and me and to our four other siblings. Mom’s life was about service to her family and to others. She was always positive and supportive; she was grounded, practical, and had faith in a higher power but like Thoreau was more comfortable living “one world at a time.” She taught by example.
I can say without hesitation that mom really did deserve the Citizen-Journal’s annual mother-of-the-year award that she got when I was in seventh grade. Her photo was on the front page of the newspaper, and the rest of the story and family photos took up a whole page. We were so proud of Mom.
In fact, everyone who knew Harriet Lehman looked up to and respected her — although in stature, she was five feet tall and petite. My dad, O. D. (Red) Lehman, was in awe of her. In the newspaper article, Mom was heralded as the first working mother-of-the-year. In the several photos, she was featured with her husband and six children; cooking with her aging mother; reading to her grandchildren; and standing by her community-service husband as he sits at his desk. In the newspaper article, what always stood out in my memory were not all the family photos but one line that rang beautifully true — that the Lehman family “lived for the life of gypsies.”
The truth is that Mom and Dad did like to stay on the move, taking us camping every summer for as long as they could manage.
Mom and Dad believed family came first, life was short, time should not be wasted, and that what often wasted our time was dealing with too much stuff, working too hard to own it, working to maintain it, and working to attain more of it. So, our family made do with fewer things which allowed us more free time on weekends and during summers. We would pack our necessities in our trailer, and off we would go on adventures, camping in state and national parks across the country. Each of us had one box in which to pack our clothes, and if something didn’t fit, we left it at home. We kids didn’t need much to entertain us. We had the open road, we had our imaginations, a deck of cards, and we had each other.
Mom and Dad also knew that experience is often the most effective teacher. As we rode in the car, Mom would saturate us with information about the places to which we were headed. Armed with AAA maps and informational literature for each destination, she would read aloud about history, sociology, geography, geology, and more.
Not only did we gain an appreciation for first-hand learning and a love of nature from our camping sojourns in historic and magnificent places across America, but also Mom and Dad instilled in us children that it was our responsibility to do our parts to keep the environment protected and clean. When we would arrive at a campground, before we even began to set up camp, Mom would instruct us to police the area for litter. While we were hiking, she told us to fill our pockets with other people’s trash. If we complained, she’d say, “I know you didn’t leave this mess, but it’s always a good idea to leave a place better than you find it.”
So it was that we were gaining an education unawares. Mom always told us, “Your father and I are teachers, and we aren’t wealthy. We can’t buy extravagant things for you, but by traveling inexpensively, by camping and eating peanut butter sandwiches instead of staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, we can give you the kind of life and education that money can’t buy.” Our simple, adventurous lifestyle was the best inheritance my parents could have left us Lehman kids.
It was this active, educational, and environmental legacy which later led me to the writings of Henry David Thoreau and to his Walden Pond and Civil Disobedience experiences. These experiences led me to Ken Ferruccio, my college freshman English instructor, and they led us both to the North Carolina Outer Banks, then inland to the Piedmont, to rural Warren County, and finally down a dirt road to this cabin in the woods where we hoped to dig deep roots together and to live simply, wisely, and deliberately. Over the past thirty-five years, these hopes have become realities, and Ken and I have been greatly blessed, but their actualization has been far different from what we had anticipated.