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The Gifts You Leave Behind

Every couple of years or so, on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, I receive an unexpected gift. I might hear a haunting song that reminds me of her, have an odd dream, or catch a glimpse of her when I look in the mirror.

This year, as I was getting ready for a night at the opera,* a childhood memory time traveled 45 years to reach me.

It happened in the kitchen of our old house in New England. I was drawn there because my mother was playing an album. I had never heard her play anything but the radio. The music was loud and unfamiliar.

With four kids under ten years of age, my mother valued her alone time. Trying not to disturb her, I found the album cover. It was Madame Butterfly. I listened because she listened, but didn’t understand a word. At the first break between songs, I asked her a quick question: “How can you understand a song in other language?”

Her answer surprised me. “It’s opera. You feel it.” This was a rare and intimate moment. Not a moment between a mother and daughter, but a moment between my mother and the place opera took her to.

Madame Butterfly

I’ve had my share of intimate opera moments and am surprised that memory eluded me. I’m not sure when I’ll get another time capsule gift from the past, but it made me wonder what gifts I’ll leave behind.

Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to share your unexpected gift from the past that someone left you. You can email me or reply via the contact button at the top of

*The Elixir of Love by Donizetti is a fabulous and fast-paced romantic comedy. If you don’t think you like opera, this one may change your mind. It is playing through February 23, 2014, at the San Diego Opera.