Thursday, January 1, 2009

This I Believe....

This I Believe is a book that I picked up at Christmas time at Barnes and Noble based on the NPR series. It really made me think about what it is I believe and I wrote the following essay as a Christmas gift to my mother. Afterall, she is why I believe what I believe....

At the age of almost 50, I am struck by the fact that all the tenets that guide my life now are those I have learned from my mother. I clearly listened when she spoke in her quiet, gentle, wise way and I was paying attention when she taught by example….here is what I learned:

Your kids come first – no matter what. You can’t truly understand this one until you have children of your own. My mother would do anything, and has done everything, for each of the four of us. We are the good, decent, stable people that we are because of her.

Except that….. I have learned to lie (just now, as my children are in their 20s, have I stopped talking about Santa – he never came up once this Christmas and the “Easter Bunny” hasn’t stopped by in years.) I have cheated with the best of them. I can make arrow heads appear out of thin air and I have thrown a game of Monopoly or Stratego just to make sure one of my kids felt like a winner. I stole on a regular basis when they were little – Christmas trees when we would drive around for hours trying to find the perfect one and then cut it down not knowing which farmer to ask permission from ahead of time. I have stolen many kisses – especially once they’ve gotten too old to want to give me one in public and I have stolen many, many “just one more minute” of snuggling. I would do it all again in a heart beat and gladly go to jail if I had to. If anything, I have protected them too much and not let them skin their knees enough, not let them feel life’s knocks enough, but I can’t change that now. I am essentially a mother bear who will rip the head off anything or anyone that threatens my kids – even now that they are grown.

A work ethic is what defines you. As I think about the people around me who are respected by others, or who I respect, they are the hard workers. They are the ones who, usually behind the scenes, put in the extra hours to make sure everything runs smoothly and gets done. Both my parents had a very strong work ethic. My father put in LONG hours worrying about keeping his own business up and running so he could pay the bills and my mother took care of four of us kids in this huge drafty, bat-infested, pet-filled, cavernous, old house with a million windows to clean and beds of pacasandra to rake and replant. Neither ever complained and taught us to be grateful that we had such a magical place to grow up in. (Even though, every now and then, the threat of “I am going to sell this house if you kids can’t get the grass cut /the leaves raked/ the garage cleaned/your closet bull dozed” was always right there.)

Character is who you are when no one is watching. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get nudged by this in some way. I guess it is like having Jiminy Cricket hanging out on my shoulder all the time. Whether it is holding the door at Barnes and Noble for a stranger or letting someone out in an endless stream of traffic or letting that person with two items go ahead in the grocery line instead of getting stuck behind you and your overflowing cart, it is about just choosing to do the right thing – simply because the right thing needs to be done.

People are more important than things. This is the one that stings most often because it never fails to mean there has been damage done to something special/expensive. When I was little, I dropped an entire platter of my grandmother’s china when my mother TOLD me not to carry it – but I was being my obstinate self. My mother just stood there with tears in her eyes and said nothing. Then, there was the time that my little brother and his friends spilled a blueberry Slurpy (it couldn’t have been a milkshake, Bri, could it?) on her white, wool, wall-to-wall carpet right out in plain sight. We scrubbed and raked and cut it out and finally dragged a piece of furniture into the middle of the room – nothing hid it. I don’t even remember her reaction to this one, so she must have accepted the damage with her usual grace and poise. THEN, one of us spilled a cherry 7-up on another white, wool, one-of-a-kind, Portuguese rug – right in the middle. That was when she actually used the words “people are more important than things, Honey” - we felt just sick about it. There was also the time I spilled a can of Hershey’s syrup on my pink, long- shag, bedroom carpet and tried to hide it, so by the time it was found, it was a glob of petrified chocolate. Dad was NOT very happy with me. I liked Mom’s way better…she never really said anything – her pained expression said it all. I have been tested with this many times over the years and I can say that I have been able, though sometimes with great difficulty, to say to the offender….”it’s alright, (heavy sigh), people are more important than things…”

Pay it forward – Long before the movie made that saying popular, my mother was living it every day. As I have gotten older, I realize even more that there are so many people I can never repay for their kindness and support – the wonderful teachers who saw that spark in my kid that no one else saw, that police officer who was there when we needed him, that soldier who sat with Daniel as he waited to go into court, that bus driver who listened when my kids were upset, that friend and mentor who checked on me and somehow knew when I needed a hug and words of encouragement. I am a Libra so I believe in keeping the ledger equal – someone does something nice, you repay in kind. The problem is that I can’t ever repay those people so, to keep it fair, I have to help someone else. So very often, my mother says that it is because of her mother’ generosity and the wonderful people in my mother’s life that she can help all of us kids now” so my mother lives this credo every single day of her life. She has shown me the real joy of giving and helping someone else – it just plain feels so good to do it and it is necessary in order to keep the scales balanced.

Never underestimate the importance of a “thank-you” note. It seems like such a small thing, but saying “thank you” is far from insignificant. To my mother, there are those who do and those who don’t. In my eyes, it goes along with keeping that balance sheet balanced. If you can’t repay it, at least say “thank you” with all your heart.

Things happen like they are supposed to. Again, as I have gotten older, I believe this more and more. I wouldn’t be sitting here in this house on this Christmas morning with my two sons and my two dogs asleep somewhere in the house if life had happened any differently. I wouldn’t change one thing or trade places with anyone. Things haven’t always turned out as I had wanted them to at the time, but I have been able to see why – sometimes much later – and wouldn’t have wanted the alternative. Mother and I share, quite often, small world stories or marvel at the amazing coincidence of something and I believe, as she has taught me, that you accept what happens as if it is God’s plan and act accordingly….

What I believe has defined who I am and how I live my life. Hopefully, my children have gleaned much of it – if only by osmosis.

It is my mother who laid the foundation for what I believe.