Today’s wisdom comes from Rachel Remen, M.D.,  in the book Kitchen Table Wisdom

Two days before my mother’s eightieth birthday I asked her how she wanted to spend the day. “I want to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty,” she replied. “Isn’t there an elevator?” I asked. My mother looked at me. “I want to climb the stairs,” she said. She had lived in New York City for almost eighty years but she had never had this experience. She clearly remembered her first view of the “liberty” when she had sailed into the New York harbor from Russia. She had been five years old then. Now, of course, she had a severe heart condition, and there were 342 steps to the top. Undaunted, I realized we could do it three or four steps at a time, resting in between. We would take her nitroglycerin and simply allow the whole day. When I proposed this to Mom she was delighted.

During the six-hour ascent, I had many misgivings. How had I gotten into this crazy thing, climbing the Statue of Liberty with an eighty-year-old woman with severe heart disease? But it was her wish and so we continued, a few steps at a time. She may have had angina but she also had an iron will. I think half of New York must have passed us on those stairs. Finally, unbelievably, we were six or seven steps from the top. As we stood there taking what must have been our three-hundredth time-out, my mother eyed the last few steps between her and her goal with resentment. “Why,” she said, “couldn’t we have done these first?”  Thank you Dr. Remen, for sharing this story with us.

I really value this story for several reasons: First, the story emphasizes “caregiving” at its best. This daughter listened, really listened, to her mother’s wish. Her 80 year-old mother wanted to climb the 342 steps in the Statue of Liberty. Not only did she really hear her mother’s wish, but she honored the desires of her mother and made it happen. Even though it took a whole day . . .even though her mother had a severe heart disease . . . even though others may have thought it was a foolish, risky thing to do – the daughter heard her mother’s wish and made it happen. She gave her mother a wonderful birthday gift. I also love this story because I want to be like this 80 year old woman when I am 80 years old. I hope that I still have the energy and the desire to have goals and work to accomplish them. This woman chose life. She teaches all of us—no matter what our age that we must “be willing to do the really important things any way we can, even three steps at a time.”

If this woman was your 80 year old mother, and she wanted to climb the 342 steps of the Statue of Liberty, how would you respond?  Put your ideas in the comments section.

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder is the founder of the Wisdom of the Wounded ministry. She lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband Larry.


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