I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my mother. Maybe it’s been because a friend of mine is experiencing a lot of issues with her mother, maybe it’s because of Easter and the proximity of Mother’s Day, maybe it’s because I’m around the same age now as my mother was when I was born, or maybe it’s because of that spiritual biography I had to write this week for my licensing committee. But I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother.
My mother didn’t have an easy life. I never knew her mother, my grandmother, but I hear that she was a very strong woman. She raised three children on her own in the 1920’s, all on her own…my mother’s father died when she was just a baby — the story I remember is that he was hit in the head by a sandbag while working backstage at a theatre in St. Joseph, Missouri. I heard stories about how my grandmother scrubbed floors at night and worked another job during the day to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. And we never ate beans — ever– when I was a child, because my mother had eaten ONLY beans as a child and she swore she would never serve them to her child.
I think, that, for the most part, she had a good life with my father. He drank heavily, because he was very unhappy, and I know that on at least a couple of instances during my lifetime, he did hit her — but they really seemed to love one another, and they certainly stuck with one another and cared for each other during times of tragedy. My brother’s death when I was four years old nearly ripped them apart, the fighting and the drinking got worse, but she never walked away. And, I’m guessing that the things that she went through in her marriage, well, they just weren’t that unusual in those days or maybe even now.
That is the perspective that I now have, after half a century of my own life, after all the mistakes that I have made and all the joy that I have experienced. But I certainly was not able to give her that understanding while she still shared this planet with me, at least not until the very end. People who know me well tell me that my “difficult” family life gives me a strength and a compassion that others might not have, but I will be honest and say that I have only discovered those qualities in myself in the past ten years or so. I spent a lot of time being very angry.
But, like I say, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother lately, and not about the “bad” things that caused the rift between us. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the wonderful parts of her that are part of me, and of all the wonderful things that she taught me, things that help me live my life every day; things that really make me who I am today; things for which I am very grateful.
Every time I wash a dish, scrub a floor, or repair some small thing around the house — that happens because my mother taught me how. Every time I cook a meal, do my taxes, plant a garden…she taught me that. She was practical and smart; she didn’t wait for my father to fix a broken hinge on a door– she did it. Without her example and her teaching, I’d be pretty helpless and spend a lot more money on repairmen. And I’m grateful for that, because there are enough things in life to make one feel helpless.
My mother is responsible for teaching me a lot of lessons in life: the lesson of respect for life, respect for others, the lessons of charity and faith, and the lesson of laughter. And, that most important lesson of all: that you have everything in you NOW to do what you are called to do — you can do anything, survive anything, if you just get out of your own way.
I know that I did not give my mother the respect that she deserved while she was still alive. But without her, I wouldn’t be able to love with the depth that I love, pray with the faith that is so clear to me, or serve with the strength that I feel now.
So, Mama, thank you. Sorry I didn’t say it sooner.