Inkie: An ordinary life well-lived, full of love, compassion

Two kinds of people inhabit this world: Those who tear things apart in an effort to understand and those who embrace things whole and without question. The analytic and the empathic.

We live in an analytical culture, in a digital age.

We were taught by our parents and, in turn, are busy teaching our children to question the why and the how of the events and the machines and the people that fill our days.

We are constructive critics at our best and cynics at our worst, so commonly consumed with analysis in the name of building a better mousetrap that it is sometimes difficult to remember that there is another way.

There are a few pure souls amongst us who care little or nothing for the why and how of things. Their tremendous energy and intellect is invested, instead, in the now of things; in giving and in being and in experiencing the incredibly rich and passionate life we are each given.

Inkie was one such person. Inkie died on a bitterly cold Pittsburgh morning in 2004 cradled in her daughter’s arms and in the deep love and respect of an incredibly large and diverse community. She’d been a social worker, a dedicated pioneer of compassion and equality, an unswerving advocate of justice and equal rights.

Black and white and brown, gay and straight and bi-sexual, people who had struggled with infertility and sexual dysfunction and adoption and relationships and trauma, friends and family, colleagues and clients from around the globe learned of her passing and cried. Gone was one of the genuinely empathic few; one of those pure souls who never tore anything down, who seldom asked how but who, instead, had shown each how to live passionately in the now.

This is neither eulogy nor obituary, accolade nor tribute. Inkie would want none of those. She was a quiet woman who shunned the spotlight despite her many remarkable successes. She was a soft-spoken woman who never accepted praise without first crediting others. This is simply the story of an ordinary life well-lived, the story of a woman who will always be a model of giving and caring and unconditional acceptance to which we each, as loving parents, might aspire.

Inkie was the youngest by more than a decade among a large brood raised on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. The family struggled through many hard times, finally able to send the little girl they’d nicknamed “Inkie” for her diminutive size to college by breeding show dogs.

As much as Inkie valued learning and reading, school and achievement, college could only polish what was hers by nature. To give to others unconditionally. To lead by example. To practice rather than to preach.

What she practiced as a mother, as a wife, as a friend and as a professional defies all of our contemporary cookbook cures. She despised computers for leeching the scent and taste and texture out of experience. She abhorred email for misleading a generation into believing that communication could occur without gesture or tone or proximity. For all of her incredible intelligence and energy, she was never self-serving or even ambitious in the conspicuous and competitive way of the world we know today. Her ambition and her practice in every role, every day was entirely about passion.

Passion. Prime time television and glossy magazines have corrupted the word.

Passion is not about sex, although as a sex therapist, Inkie would be the first to talk openly about passion and physical intimacy. For Inkie, passion was no more and no less than embracing life in all its imperfect beauty. She taught by example how to live richly, how to celebrate the part of the cup that is half full, how to see color and hear laughter and taste sweetness every day.

Inkie could turn a child’s fruit snack into an elaborate orange party, a shoe sale into something close to religious ecstasy, and a puppy’s tail-wagging, tongue-lapping enthusiasm into the sweetest thing she’d ever seen. That was Inkie: Everything was the funniest or the most beautiful or the most exciting or the best of whatever it was. There was no intellectualization or artifice to her. There was no criticism or analysis. There was only pure, here-and-now passion. She lived passionately in the moment, fought passionately for the future and cared passionately and unconditionally for those she loved.

In the years since Inkie’s death, we who try so hard to listen might hear her legacy and strive to fulfill it: Life is too short to be wasted asking why. Each moment, every sight and sound and texture and scent and taste, every encounter with every person, no matter their color or size or shape or interest is a gift to be treasured whole and unique. Empathy and passion and acceptance are the keys to our health and to our future.

Take Inkie’s gift to your children. Resolve to every day to share now with them, to celebrate every moment and to give them the whole and uncomplicated acceptance of your love. Find passion in your life, the part of the cup that is always half full and in doing so, not only will you honor Inkie’s memory, you will be enriching your entire family’s life.

Parenting Pointer

How can you bring Inkie’s gift to your children today?

How can you juggle two jobs and all the bills, cook the meals, do the dishes and the laundry, and get the washer fixed all the while helping one child do his homework and get the other child to practice on time?

There’s no question that life can be chaotic and confusing and just plain infuriating, but that is only part of the picture. Inkie’s gift is a vision of the rest of the picture, the part of the cup that is half full.

If you want your children to learn to love and give to others, to value every moment and to find passion in their lives, you must do the same.

Start by breathing.

It sounds simple, but paying attention to something as automatic and assumed as breathing can be very difficult. Stop everything right now and listen to your body. Focus on the experience of expanding your chest to take air in, hold it a moment and then consciously let the air out. Do it again. Slower. Try to capture that rhythm and you may find that other things start to fall into place all by themselves.

Listen and look all around you. Deliberately find something new or unnoticed, something that you normally take for granted and discover its beauty. Watch your daughter’s brow furrow while she studies. Listen to the music in your son’s voice while he talks on the phone. When you begin to treasure these things uncritically, you’re accepting Inkie’s gift and teaching your children to do the same.

Dr. Benjamin Garber, Ph.D., is a New Hampshire-licensed psychologist and parenting coordinator. Garber welcomes your comments at papaben@healthyparent.com.