Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Remember Mama

My mom was a very humble woman, in the nicest possible sense of the word. She always thought of herself as ordinary, average, even dumb. She wasn’t ordinary, she wasn’t average, and she most certainly wasn’t dumb. Although I will admit, she couldn’t spell a lick. I used to tease her because on her grocery shopping list, she always spelled “hamberger” with an e instead of a u. And she usually wrote “spag” and “broc” because she knew she’d never get “spaghetti” or “broccoli” right. And any time Sue or I needed help with math or science homework, she’d send us straight to Dad.

She may not have been especially academic, but she was very, very wise. When I was in middle school, she had the wisdom to keep her thoughts to herself when I announced that I was considering dyeing a big magenta streak in my hair. When I was a junior in high school and I came home early from school in tears because a friend had just been killed in a car accident, she had the wisdom to not say anything, but to just hold me in her arms and stroke my hair and let me cry. When I was a sophomore in college and I called her to say that I wanted to live in Africa for the summer, she had the wisdom to keep her fears to herself and let me stretch my wings. She had the kind of wisdom you can’t learn from books and classes.

But even better than wisdom, Mom had faith. Not just a Sunday morning kind of faith, but a deep-rooted, always learning, heart and soul kind of faith. The kind of faith that is apparent in every word and every action, in every fiber of a person’s being. And it was her faith that carried her through this illness. Most patients in her situation would snap at the nurses, complain constantly (and with good reason), and be angry and bitter. But not Mom. She was unfailingly gracious and polite to the medical staff, always cheerful and optimistic, and although she fought her illness every step of the way, she had a serenity about her fate that can only come from a deep-rooted faith in God. And those around her saw it. Her nurses and doctors often commented on it. They all said what a joy she was to work with, what a loving and kind person she was, and what a sunny and hopeful attitude she always had. And if they ever mentioned it to her, she told them in no uncertain terms that her faith in God was what gave her the strength to endure her illness the way she did.

It was absolutely typical of Mom that the day we met with her doctor and were told that her cancer wasn’t responding to treatment and that hospice care was the next step, as we were waiting for the ambulance to take her back to rehab, Mom said to me, “After I’m gone, I want you to give my Bible to Dr. Natarajan. I know she’s searching, and I think she’d really read it.” And, also very typical of Mom, she paused and then asked me, “Do you think that would be weird?” With tears in my eyes, I told her that no, that wouldn’t be weird at all. And I strongly suspect that that Bible is the most meaningful gift that doctor has ever received from a patient.

But the most meaningful gift that I ever received from my mother was simply a lifetime of watching a woman of great wisdom and great faith live out that wisdom and faith every day of her life. She may have seen herself as ordinary, average, and dumb, but to me, she will always be extraordinary, far above average, and pretty darn smart, to boot. And I pray that I will be able to honor and carry on her legacy of wisdom and faith by being an example of wisdom and faith to my own children. In fact, I might even start spelling hamburger with an E.

Martha Metcalf, 1939-2011

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