“What a waste!” She complained. “I rinse the dishes, load them, then unload the dishes. Madness! In the time I did all this, I could have just washed them by hand and be done with it.” My mother’s rant focused upon the dishwasher my father presented to her — a Mother’s Day surprise. But when life’s difficulties intervened, her true self emerged: the pragmatist and survivor who possessed boundless courage.
Three days before she died, my mother, Seren Tuvel, gave me the only knick-knack she ever displayed in her dressmaking salon. At 65, she was slipping away from me, perched on that ethereal divide between life and death, frail as a fledgling swallow facing a powerful gust. Her Knick-knack: a wooden box painted to resemble an antiqued book. Within its covers, the poignant message printed in flowing script upon a background of Renaissance angels.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” The Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr.
It became clear that the Serenity Prayer was a concise statement of the willpower she’d harnessed during her struggle to survive Dachau. Before she’s found that trinket, she advised, “Live courageously. No matter what, trust heart. What you know to be the truth will feed courage. Otherwise, how can you live with yourself? What kind of person will you be?” It was also the answer she gave to anyone who asked her, “Why didn’t you convert to Christianity when the Nazis began to round up Jews?”