Reaching life’s milestones has a way of propelling me toward inward reflection to ponder the meaning of life and my place in it. My most recent birthday and the arrival of an AARP card bearing my name seemed to juxtapose where I have been and where I am going, leaving me sitting to marinate in where I am. We are all a work in progress being molded and shaped by events along our journey, but most of life’s lessons for me simply echo the wisdom of my first teacher; my mom.
The lessons that I have learned from my mother were specific and make up the foundation that I stand on. From the time I was very young, my mother instilled the basic lessons: say your prayers, always tell the truth, never cheat and keep your room clean to name a few. But as time goes on, I realize that what she really taught was about faith, hope and charity.
“Pray about it.” When I was younger, the words were “Ask God for help” but the message has been consistent and is in the forefront of every big problem or decision I encounter. My mom has always been a woman of faith and has taught me that we are better served when we ask for guidance.
“Praise God for answered prayer.” It has become more evident to me that prayers are answered and that sometimes we need to sit back and listen for the answers in order to hear them. It is easy to look around with envy in difficult times and to wonder why life is so hard, but an attitude of gratitude turns it all on its head and even it times of strife, blessings are there to be counted.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I can honestly say that I am still working on this one. This is the wisdom that has allowed me to accept the things I cannot change and by doing so, avoiding senseless conflict. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
Lessons of faith and hope were taught with words, but one of the greatest lessons my mother taught she did so by example; Charity. Both of my parents modeled this for me growing up by reaching out to strangers and friends in need, but as my mom entered her retirement years, her outreach has become a major component of her life. She has been working with refugees families to teach them English and help them acclimate to life in the US. Mom and Bruce worked with habitat for humanity helping these people to build and establish homes. Most recently, she has taken a position as a volunteer at the hospital greeting visitors to help them navigate the visit with their love ones and also works with a satelite group making blankets and toys for children in the hospital, raising money for the hospital through bake sales and various other activities. Through her church she has worked with Soles for Souls collecting shoes to send to countries where such a basic need is a luxury. She and Bruce have dedicated themselves twice a year to our troops. In the summer (Marine Appreciation Day) and in the fall (Thanksgiving with the Marines) they have spearheaded a program in their community to bring busses of Marines who cannot go home for the holiday to join host families for the day; filling their bellies with food and their hearts with love and gratitude.
It is easy for most people to see the Golden Years as a time for rewarding oneself for a lifetime of hard work. My mother has shown me that rewards do not always come in the form of self-indulgence; but can be in the satisfaction of touching someone else’s life.
My mother’s wisdom was taught to her in much the same way; her mother (Mema) was the same kind of teacher. Mema (Mary Ellen) married an Irishman, and as devout Catholics, did not practice birth control. Her life mirrors some of the heart wrenching memoir books on my shelf; a life of great poverty and trials. She gave birth to 12 children, two of which died in childhood and raised 5 sons and 5 daughters, my mother being the baby of the clan. The stories shared by my mom and her siblings are about times of hunger and less than meager possessions. I know that things like toothpaste and shoes without holes were not elements of their existence.
In spite of this, my grandmother’s faith was profound, always finding things to bless and thank God for. Her wisdom taught her children not to squander what they had and to always have self-respect. “Squeeze your money tight and do your business tidy” and “Don’t let the neighbors know your business.” These were some of the phrases she would use to help her kids hold their heads high in times of trouble; teaching faith and hope in the same way as my mother, through her words. What astounds me most, however, is her teaching of charity. In spite of having nothing, my grandmother would never fail to find someone who had less and would share what little she had with them.
By the time I met Mema, she was in her later years and I remember her as a nutty, silly, loopy woman and I am sad that I did not have a chance to know her as I grew older. The thread of humor has passed through the women of this Irish linage as an essential ingredient for life. My daughter often calls me on my “random” behaviors and I simply blame the women before me, just as I can also credit them for the basic guidelines for living.
On this Mother’s day, I want to thank my mom and Mema before her for the lessons they passed to me and I hope that I can honor them in carrying forward the wisdom of my mothers.