“I’m never coming back here after college. I can’t wait to get out of this town.”
It’s a familiar refrain at this time of year, as seniors begin to prepare themselves mentally for life after high school, and one that I, too, voiced when I was a senior.
“Be careful of wishing your life away,” Mom responded patiently, never hinting that I might have hurt her feelings in my eagerness to flee her home and the tiny town where I grew up.
At eighteen, I responded by running my fingers through my long chestnut tresses and leaving the room with an indignant sigh. What could she, who had never been out of the hills of West Virginia, possibly know about how I felt? She seemed to be content to be a mom in a small town, spending hours over the ironing board while watching soap operas about the drama in other people’s lives.
Yesterday, on my first Mothers’ Day without my mom, I thought for the first time in a long time about how often she gently admonished me for wishing for the future at the expense of the present.
I’d had an unpleasant week at work last week and had come home on Friday longing for a retirement that is farther away than I’d like but too close to give up on the benefits of full retirement. Every year at this time I wish I had more days to sit on the deck and enjoy my favorite season—the warm sun, the gentle breezes, the yellow finches alighting on the bird feeder. And as I near the end of a career in education and look forward to having more time to write and reflect and volunteer for causes I care about, I find it particularly difficult to sit in a windowless office writing curriculum and assessments.
My mom quit school in ninth grade, and a GED earned in her late 40s was her highest degree. But in many ways she was a very wise woman. She spoke truth in the simplest of terms, and because of that, my siblings and I often dismissed what we now refer to as Naomi-isms.
As an adult with a child of my own that I’d begun taking to church, I mentioned to Mom that Paul said something similar to her truism in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith be content.”
When I admitted her wisdom, we both got a little emotional. Though my mother was a devout Christian, she never attended church, and she tried to protect us from the harshness of her parents’ fiery faith. So instead of quoting scripture to us, she spun the wisdom of the ages in her own warm hominess.
My husband, who grew up steeped in the rituals of Catholicism, teased us about our more emotional approach to faith. “Hey,” he said, “if you had been content in the state of West Virginia, we would never have met.”
He spoke another truism of faith—that all things somehow work together for good when we follow our heart’s call with the wisdom of our minds.
And it strikes me now how often people of all faith and no faith sometimes accept the universal truths of religion when they hear them in a form that isn’t all tangled up in the baggage of our lives or in political battles and issues. Because all religions spring from an attempt to make sense of events and situations that we grapple to understand, all religions offer us some wisdom in the face of the unfathomable.
After a weekend of reminding myself to be content, I pulled onto the highway this morning to find myself in a traffic jam before I even left my neighborhood. I turned around to head in the only other route that would get me to work. As I drove north of my home to find the winding country road that would eventually take me south again, I had to pull over three times for a flurry of emergency vehicles. I had a keener sense than usual that I could have been in whatever accident had occurred had I left home five minutes earlier. I let my irritation over the Monday morning commute run off like rain water into the lush fields of newly planted crops.
I got to work in a state of unusual calm. I hadn’t been there an hour when a colleague called to tell me of a young mother—a healthy marathoner—who died suddenly on Saturday morning. The colleague who called me is also a young mother of small children, and she needed to wrap her head around the unpredictability of the incomprehensible.
I listened. I had no answers for her, nor did she expect me to. Our religions will never explain such a loss. The most that can be said is that faith can sometimes give a peace that does, indeed, defy understanding. And it is easier to find that comfort when other human beings wrap us up in love and compassion when we need it most.
So for today, Mom, I’ll try to remember not to wish my life away, longing for another beautiful weekend like the last. Instead, I’ll try to be thankful for the weekend just past—when a loving daughter and her boyfriend showed more appreciation for my truisms than I ever offered you when I was their age.
Tell me your Mom-isms, your Dad-isms, your own truisms for the ages.