What I Learned From My Mother


Kasdorf, Julia




Julia Kasdorf is an award-award winning poet who grew up in Western Pennsylvania. Her earthy, colorful poems draw deeply on lived experience and often reveal an ache for connection and community. "What I Learned From My Mother" is a list of simple, specific things the poet's mother did for those around her in need—from taking garden flowers to the sick to attending funeral viewings. It raises the possibility that the suffering of others might become a source of meaning in our own lives by creating conditions that ask us to make ourselves useful. It also touches on questions of upbringing and whether a person can be taught to be generous.

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Sleeping Preacher by Julia Kasdorf (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), p. 43.




Connection and RelationshipCrisis and ConflictGiving and ReceivingHeritage and TraditionIdentity and CommunityLove and CompassionMotives and ValuesServing and VolunteeringTeaching and Learning

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?How should we respond to crisis?Who should we give to and why?How have my past and heritage shaped me?How has my family or background shaped who I am?How does a person learn compassion?Is my service changing the world or only myself? Is that enough?Where does the best learning happen – in the classroom or elsewhere?


Talking Giving

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe the tradition of giving in this poem?
  2. What is being given in this poem?
  3. Why do you think Kasdorf mentions the black ants on the peony buds?
  4. How did Kasdorf's mother teach her to give? How do we know what – or if – she learned from her mother?
  5. Why does Kasdorf suggest that all “anyone will remember is that we came”? Do you agree that this is most important than words? Why or why not?
  6. What does it mean “to create/from another's suffering [one's] own usefulness”? Do you feel that you have done this in your work?
  7. What do you make of Kasdorf's assertion that once “you know how to do this, you can never refuse”? Has this been the case in your own life?
  8. In your day-to-day life, what is it that you give? Why do you give it?
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