The idea for this little duet of posts first came to my mind several months ago. If I’d had my thinking cap on I would have posted them in conjunction with Mother’s Day. Alas, I did not. So here they are now, awkwardly located between Father’s Day and the 4th of July. Such is life.
I am among the fortunate. I have two invaluable role models in my life; two women, whose imprint on me is indelible, and whose guidance and influence are among my most treasured possessions. They are my mother and my mother-in-law. Over the years the lessons they have imparted have become guideposts for my life, and I find it only fair that the rest of humanity should be equally blessed by their wisdom. And so here, in two parts, I will share with you some of the most important things they’ve shared with me.
“Listen to your elders.” I don’t know that she’s ever said it in those words exactly, but that is one of my mother’s marquis mantras. During our teen years (and beyond) this lesson became a point of teasing and was (is) just as likely to be phrased as “Mom loves old people,” as opposed to the more quotable version above. Nevertheless, both versions are true.
The American culture (unlike say, Asian cultures) is not one that values age. We spend gozillions of dollars trying to halt the aging process. Hair color, Botox, sports cars, Viagra, face lifts, and the like serve the master of youth. And in our quest for eternal youth we tend to forget that those who have traveled further down life’s path may have learned a thing or two along the way. My mother, on the other hand, has never lost sight of that.
Because she likes tangible projects, and because she is a talented seamstress, my mother has participated for years in her church’s Project Day. Lest its somewhat generic name confuse you, Project Day is a sewing circle of sorts, wherein women from the church gather to create clothes and blankets for needy people – usually babies. They piece and tie quilts. They sew little cotton shirts for African children. They hem receiving blankets and burp cloths. And the soundtrack to all of this stitching is the telling of their life stories.
My mother (who was about my age when I was born – I’ll let you do the math) is by far the youngest member of the group. Most of the women are well into their 70s, and some into their 80s. Many are widows. Some have lost children. Collectively they’ve faced cancer, betrayal, divorce, and children moving away. They’ve also been blessed by family, health, grandchildren, and community. They’ve witnessed and experienced all of the good and all of the bad that life doles out. As my mother aptly put it once, “There’s nothing these women haven’t been through.”
When Mom was in the throes of wedding planning for her daughters, they’d been there. When a friend was diagnosed with brain tumors, they’d been there. When her children moved away, they’d been there. When her first grandchild was born, they’d been there. And with each rite of passage they handed down their wisdom and perspective as my mother was christened into another of life’s little clubs.
In today’s world of “newer, faster, cheaper” we are inclined to believe that these things always add up to “better.” But I’ve learned from my mother that this isn’t always the case. What holds true for cell phones does not bear out when applied to people. We are complex creatures. Our elders may not know how to program a DVR. They may not know how to record an outgoing voice mail message. They may not understand the humor on 30 Rock. But they know what to do when your child falls ill. They know what to say when your cancer goes into remission. They know what to do when your husband loses his job. And they know what to do when your garden produces way too many zucchini.
It is with time that we accumulate experiences, and with experiences that we accumulate wisdom. And it is because of my mother that I both understand and appreciate the rounded edges of an old person’s wisdom every bit as much as the sharp corners of a young person’s wit.