Raising Mack took a great deal of energy, because she was such a mischievous toddler and an active kid; and it took all of my organizational skills and gas money to transport her to practices and games for the nine different sports she played over the course of sixteen years. But in other ways, she was so, so easy. She was happy and silly on the outside, and she was tranquil and wise on the inside. She rarely sassed or grumbled and never felt sorry for herself. She would frequently with amusement report on the preteen and teenager drama of her classmates, but she never engaged in any of it herself. She was even-keeled, humble and sweet. For a child however, one of her most surprising and admirable traits was her gratitude. She was one of the most appreciative children I’ve ever known.
With the exception of frequently exercising her talents as a professional lobbyist for new pets, Mack never begged for material objects, especially items we could not afford. She never needed the most expensive bike, or jeans or golf clubs. She was never compelled to keep up with her peers in the accumulation of stuff. Mack was content and thankful for what she had, and she always felt a little guilty if we splurged for something like a quality catcher’s mitt or a pair of her favorite Nike sneakers that were not on sale. She adored a few precious objects—like Spot the little stuffed dog, her old-fashioned Nintendo games, her Buffy the Vampire box set, and a miniature “Dr. Who” Tardus made by the hand of a college friend. But mostly, material objects were of little importance to her.
Yet from a very young age, Mack was a gracious receiver of gifts. She would enthusiastically unwrap them, beam brightly and offer genuine enjoyment and thankfulness. At birthdays and at Christmas she always wanted to assure me that I had chosen the perfect gifts and had wrapped them beautifully. For her, receiving a gift was about making her gift giver happy. Underneath that silly, little kid persona, Mack was in that way a wise old soul. Her effusive acceptance of gifts always made me smile, and I admired this subtle quality in her. She always exhibited surprise and excitement upon opening a gift; and frequently she teased about being unworthy of such abundance.
When Mack was selecting a college, she fell in love with Oberlin, an extraordinary little school with an extraordinary sticker price. She visited twice, was recruited by the basketball coach, made her application and crossed her fingers and toes for enough scholarship money to make it work. The scholarship was significant, but insufficient. It absolutely broke my heart and it put a pretty good crack in hers as well, but she accepted it with grace. Of course, in the end, that disappointment mattered not to Mack. She found a suitable second choice, an equally quirky and special liberal arts environment at Truman State University in northern Missouri. She did not dwell on what was not to be, instead she focused on what she had in front of her. I pined for Oberlin far longer than she did. Not only did Mack move on quickly from the dream of Oberlin, she also appreciated that even the far more affordable Truman was expensive. When she went off to college in the fall of 2012, we put our family on a tight budget so as to fund most of the expense along the way and to avoid oppressive student loans. Mack accepted this plan with enthusiasm, and her discipline to make it work was admirable. She dutifully followed her budget and never once complained. She always waited too long to ask for additional funds, she felt guilty when necessity required her to ask for money and she always exhibited sincere appreciation for all she received.
At times, I find myself wishing that Mack had been more demanding. Wishing that I had showered her with more of the things she might have enjoyed but for which she was too kind to ask. Wishing that I could have afforded to send her to Oberlin. Wishing that I would have spoiled her way more rotten than I did since, as it turned out, I had so little time to indulge her. But Mack did not sit around wishing for things that were not possible. She did not dwell on the past or worry about the future. She did what we all need to try harder to do: to live in the moment and to be content with what we have immediately in our midst and easily within our grasp.
What an amazing and sage kid she was. I knew it then. I know it better now. For Mack, the glass was always half full, not half empty. For Mack, the sky was partly sunny, not partly cloudy. For Mack, life was not about the quality or quantity of your material possessions. I am pretty certain that Mack would say to me now that her twenty years were, in her words, “all good.” And I’m pretty certain Mack would tell me now she had all she ever needed. I am trying hard to keep this in mind, and I am trying even harder to believe it.