My Mother and Lessons in Grace

If you come right down to it, summer has never been my favorite season. I don’t mind the heat, and I love the sandals and the dresses, but eventually everything gets kind of murky in all the long hours there seem to be. I always start off excited for the freedom, but then I get a bit lost in it. Even when I make myself plans like reveling in all the reading and writing I can’t do during the year, even then, I get a bit lost.

But lately I’ve been grateful for my mother. It has taken most, if not all, of my growing up years to understand what a phenomenon she is.

I remember when I was very small hearing my dad refer to her as pretty, which, at the time, was very shocking to me, because she was my mother. I expressed my skepticism, and she looked at me with her eyebrows raised. “You don’t think I’m pretty?” “Well, no!” I said. My parents just turned to each other and laughed like grown-ups did. I remember being very offended. (Turns out my mom is beautiful.)

And I asked her once in high school if she worried about us when we were out late, and she said breezily, “Oh, no, I just start planning your funerals.” At the time I thought this was her way of saying no, of course not, but it occurred to me, years later, that it was actually her way of saying yes, of course.

I like to tell these stories, but they do nothing to communicate the steady, everyday effect she has had on me. Just now, I happily, willingly, practiced my cello, and yesterday I changed out of sweatpants into shorts before I took a walk in the heat. These small acts seem unremarkable, but they took years of dedication on the part of my even-more-stubborn-than-me mother. I have moved out now and she takes great care to invite me over for dinner at least once a week, and text me often to meet her to take a walk.

And it occurs to me more and more as I tell her all my worries, and try her patience with my tears, that she has never once offered me the easy way out. She has always, insistently, offered me the way in: make yourself go, make yourself write, make yourself read, make yourself eat well, make yourself pray, and always make your bed. Her cures for my ailments never offer a break from life, but instead life itself. She is the one who suggested I write a paper to present at an academic conference in the middle of my first year of teaching, for no other reason than because I could. Her perennial lesson is to use what’s been given you. Read the book because it’s good, and wear your hair down because you can. You’ve been given hands, feet, a brain, a home: use them, use them, use them.

Grace is hard. To accept good things, to lose the world and gain your soul, is painful. I thought that I learned this in college. But now I am beginning to think that I will be learning it over and over again, with fresh pangs, for the rest of my life.

I have been given freedom: take it up, like a cross, and use it, use it, use it. Thanks, Mama. I’m learning.

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