It’s Mother’s Day, so “Happy Mother’s Day” to all you “muthas” out there. My mother, God rest her soul, died in 1985. So today I pause to think about how much and in what ways she influenced my life. In a sense, I am a reincarnation of some aspects of her behavior and approach to life, and I consider that a good thing.
She was unfailingly giving. Raising me during the time before Women’s Lib, she accepted her role as the chief cook and bottle washer and personal slave to the males in the house (my Dad and me). My Dad would sit there in front of the television (in the days before remote controls) and when he was ready to change from one channel to another (there were only 3 in the Atlanta area at the time), he would say “Change it to 5 (or 2 or 11).” It was accepted in my home that the order was meant for my mother, so she would get up from her seat, walk across the room and change the channel. When I think back about it, I shudder at the injustice of it, but at the time, none of us, my mother included, questioned it. Somehow she seemed to accept it not reluctantly but joyfully.
Since she died and while I was raising my second son, Mike, I had the opportunity to “do things” for him, without his asking. For instance in the morning when I got up, usually before he did, I would take him a cup of coffee to his bedroom to help him wake up. He was, of course, perfectly capable of getting up and getting his own coffee, but I did it because of what it gave to me rather than because of what it gave to him.
My mother taught me that there is a reward to the giver that delivers on its promise only when the giving takes place voluntarily and joyfully. I learned that if you approach it in the right frame of mind, cleaning up after someone else can be an honor and a blessing to you. I know my approach to such things isn’t common. Some would even say it is unnatural. Yet, for me, where others feel irritation and intolerance at someone else’s failings, I am blessed to see such things as an opportunity to experience a very satisfying reward. And that is yet another gift my mother gave me.
This giving/receiving dichotomy also is paradoxical. People who give receive the joys of giving. People who receive give the opportunity for someone else to give. You can’t have giving without a receiver and you can’t receive the benefits of the gift without, in the process, giving the giver the gift of the chance to give. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. There are payoffs on both sides.
I’m fairly sure my mother never sat down and thought through what she was receiving by her willingness to give. She wasn’t that introspective. She simply did what she did because she was who she was. And that’s the way all of us teach each other anything — by being who we are, not by telling each other how to live. Actions, as is commonly known, speak louder than words.