Today would have been my aunt Margie Pozefsky’s 72nd birthday. Having “celebrated” the 7th birth anniversary of Ana Marquez-Greene just 5 days ago, it feels a little weird to be lamenting the absence of someone who managed to grace our world for so long. But aside from the fact that loss is loss, today offers a particularly good opportunity to look at Margie’s legacy and, perhaps more importantly (at least for those who didn’t know and love her personally, as I did), to look at what we can learn from her.
Margie married my uncle Tom when I was a teenager. They had been together for some time and both had grown children from previous marriages, so the wedding itself was to me just a big party. I remember the way a teenager remembers things, I suppose, for fleeting bits of personal relevance – jamming with a professional band for the first time (“Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad”) and my last hang with my great uncle Charlie, the one serious musician to precede me on either side of my family. Deeper in my consciousness I now realize that they were in the process of providing me with the model for a successfully blended family, something that would certainly resonate years later as my own unconventional family took shape.
Tom and Margie lived in Baltimore, so I didn’t get to see them often, but I was always struck by her warmth and focused presence. I was also struck by her artistry – she was a brilliant ceramic artist and later on would transition to applying her creativity and attention to craft to making jewelry. I knew that at a certain point Margie had health problems, though a successful kidney transplant led me to think “phew, crisis averted” and get back to thinking of her as the kind woman who always made the people around her feel good. I last saw her in the summer of 2011 when I was in Baltimore for a gig with my trio and to attend a conference. She was characteristically hospitable and engaged in conversation (even when the subject shifted to some of my struggles that scare away many faint-hearted conversationalists) and I had the treat of poking around her studio to see some of her latest work.
All of this sounds nice, if perhaps mundane.
What I didn’t know, somewhat embarrassingly, was that she was simultaneously making major waves as a philanthropist and an activist. She was a board member for the Baltimore Symphony, for example, and worked hard in support of a ceramic studio in her community. Most significantly, perhaps, it was through her efforts that the national landscape changed for kidney donations and transplants. She and she and Tom endowed a professorship in kidney transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins, and her advocacy led to profound policy changes surrounding transplants. Imagine that you intended to donate a kidney to a loved one in need but yours didn’t match. Wouldn’t it be great if your donation could go to someone for whom you WERE a match, essentially swapping out with someone who could donate the kidney your loved one needed but was in the same boat? It sounds incredibly logical, and yet it took the efforts of this passionate and committed woman to bring this program to fruition.
Until Margie’s passing from cancer this past summer, I knew virtually nothing of this. I am only spared from feeling really ashamed about it because . . . well, she never talked about it. We talked about her art and her family and beyond that she mostly wanted to know what was going on with me. I am not sure if she was capable of trumpeting her own accomplishments; at minimum, she certainly was uninterested in doing so.
Now, though, I look back and see what an impact her kindness had, both in the one-on-one context of her engagement with others and in the broader scope of her activism and philanthropy. I was asked to play something at her memorial service, both a profound honor and a daunting responsibility. No demand was made that I compose something for the occasion, but I felt compelled to, and that was the genesis of the piece “Ripples,” which is now serving as the centerpiece of the album by the same name that is currently in production. Being a part of this memorial service only served to reinforce my wonder at how many lives were improved because of her commitment to good.
The notion behind “Ripples” is that each of her acts of kindness impacted some people directly, but also had secondary and tertiary impacts and so on, rippling outward and ultimately leading to positive change for people she had never met. She was fiercely devoted to her family, and that inner “ring” is the most obvious, but each subsequent ripple also made people’s lives better. It really started to boggle my mind when I thought about how far out the ripples go. If her activism saved lives, just think about all of the people potentially impacted by each of those lives – and those ripples all begin from layers involving people she never even met.
As I’ve written before, we all have the capacity to make a significant impact with our actions. Those ripples aren’t always positive (acts of cruelty or violence certainly have their own ripples) but if we are committed to doing good and simply being kind, there is a great capacity for our actions to ripple outward in layers beyond anything we can observe directly.
To read a bit more about Margie, click here for her obit from the Baltimore Sun.