The youngest of eight children, she quit school at sixteen to support her parents and to give my Uncle Bill the chance to go to seminary. I never once heard her complain.
She took ten years off her life to have me when she was nearly forty-two and suffered more than she needed to every day of the twenty-six years she had left as a direct result.
I never learned any of that from her. She’d have given anything for me to never know.
When I was twelve years old, I once told a white lie that ran around the neighborhood like wildfire and ended with a dozen adults, including my parents, believing I had gone missing. The misunderstanding was cleared up within a few hours and the neighborhood thought no more of it because all was well. When my mother came to me the next day to have a talk the first thing she said was this:
“They only believed it because it was you.”
She did not say they only believed it because I was her son, or because they had gotten their idea of who I was from who she was. She didn’t have to.
The next and last thing she said was:
“You’ll have to decide how you feel about that. No one else can decide for you.”
What I decided was to commit myself a lot harder to the idea of living by the only three rules she ever gave me.
Respect your elders (and if they fail to earn it, the proper response is not anger, but pity).
Don’t lie, especially to yourself. It only gets deeper from there.
Never do anything–good or bad–just because someone else is doing it.
I’ve tried my best to live by those rules from that day to this. Every regret I’ve had, except one, was a result of my failing to do so.
Regarding the one exception (and it doesn’t matter what it was so let’s just say it involved a girl and my foolish pride), she gave me the best advice of all. I ignored it and it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve realized everything since has been a form of penance.
She’d have never wished that on me either. She’d have given anything to be wrong if it put me in a better place.
I always knew on some level that I was lucky, but only the passage of time has revealed how much. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young.
I’m gonna be happy today because that’s what she would want.
But it isn’t going to be easy.