Courage: For my MotherMay 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Posted in running, Uncategorized | 20 Comments
I signed up to tackle the Five for Ten blogging “challenge” — I’ve never done anything like this before but (a) could use a kick in the butt in terms of posting more often and (b) it’s always nice to be given a subject. Today’s subject is COURAGE.
I had wanted to post my “courage” piece yesterday, for Mother’s Day, but struggled a bit with the vagaries of the word. On a sparkling, crisp, windy Sunday, then, I set out on a long run thinking about the word and, probably because it was, in fact, Mother’s Day, my mind kept coming back to my mother.
I do not consider myself a courageous person at all. I cannot even call the plumber to schedule a repair. I am still scared of thunderstorms (for real). To an outsider, certain decisions I have made perhaps seem courageous. Arguably it takes courage to end a long relationship in which you have invested everything. Or it takes courage to restart your life at 30 and go to law school. For me, however, these decisions had nothing to do with being courageous. They were simply right, and, at the time, there were no other decisions that could have been made. Instead, I see courageous as having a connotation that leans more towards “principled” than “brave” — because sometimes the line between “brave” and “foolish” is just too porous.
Still, I knew intrinsically that these decisions would be supported by, if no one else, my mother. Her own decisions regarding her marriage, career, and most important her children, were made as much out of principle as they were bravery — and, as such, are to me the definition of courageous.
My mother is one of the few people I know who has never veered from a set of core principles about fairness, equality, and love. In our yuppie New Jersey suburb we were one of the few families who didn’t belong to the country club. My mother would not join a club, she said, that did not admit Jews, blacks, or Italians, to name a few. “You can have an exclusive club, I don’t care,” she said. “But I cannot condone excluding people on an external bias.” (At the time, I was kind of peeved that I couldn’t join all of my friends poolside, ordering grilled cheeses and fountain Cokes all summer long.) Or, for example, when my father’s law firm held its annual dinner dance at an exclusive men’s club in the city, the wives were made to wait in the ladies room until their husbands arrived. My mother refused. These principles gave her the courage in spite of public opinion, even if that public was only the small worlds of our town and my father’s colleagues, to act in singular way. Later, during my parents’ rather scandalous divorce, these same principles morphed into pure courage, enabling her to hold her head high as she walked through town while all other heads leaned together to whisper about her. Ultimately, she emerged as the woman to whom every other housewife in town, as their marriages fell apart, sought for advice.
At the same time, in addition to her stances for what is inherently “right,” a deep, unwavering, principled love for family is gave her the courage to get out of bed when the entire town was talking about her. It gave her the strength to herself go to law school in her 40s (with three children at home). It gave her the courage to open her heart again to love and marriage.
A friend once said to me, “Your mom is the quintessential mother.” (At the time I probably quite literally said, “Whatever” or some other similarly dismissive response.) This comment was made after my mother had taken a group of college friends out to dinner in Washington, D.C., where I was on an extended visit with my father, who was dying. My parents were no longer married, and all of the surrounding stresses were taking their toll on me physically and emotionally (obviously). My mother drove down just for a day. She took us to dinner and we ordered wine and laughed about college, and for a time I was buoyed. I now understand what my friend meant — my mother sometimes glows with her unshakeable love and faith in her daughters. It is so obvious to anyone who knows her that there is absolutely nothing she wouldn’t do for us.
Do you know what it is like to go through life with that sort of faith and love behind you? It gives you, yes, courage.
Though I was a heady, selfish, precocious teenager who made some stupid decisions, I did know — as much as I thought I hated her at the time — that my mother loved me and would stand by me. And, I must say, reciprocally, she had the courage to do so, even when she didn’t know whether I’d ever have a good relationship with her.
So when I went through my “decade of troubles” (I just made the phrase up now — doesn’t it sound sort of Gothic?) — the death of my father, the end of a major relationship, the uncertainties of my future — I didn’t so much tap into any sort of courage of my own as look to the path she had blazed before me. Her actions taught me that by holding fast to one’s principles — equality, love, hope — one could create a good life out of adversity or even a new life, of sorts, if necessary.
Most important, when I became pregnant with my daughter — a bit more quickly and surprisingly than I would have planned — I knew, once again, that I’d have her support. (I tucked my daughter in last night and thought, “My God, what if I hadn’t had her?”)
As I ran up and down the hills yesterday, thinking about this post, and courage, and, of course, my mother herself, I thought, “This is all I want for my children.” For them to have the courage to make mistakes and to live by their principles and to know that, no matter what, I will always love them and support them and help them.
My mother might argue that she did not have courage. She might tell you that she tried to hard to pretend that things were alright when they weren’t or that our lives were still perfect when, clearly, they weren’t. She might not forgive herself for this. And, consequently, now she might tell you that the most important thing you can do when you raise a child is to teach her to deal with adversity.
Still, while she may have not thought she was teaching us these lessons at the time, through her comport and manner — her graceful bearing, her calm, her ability to listen without judgment, her articulate words, her protectiveness, her humor (which, of course, we often did not find funny) — we nevertheless learned them and have them as our touchstone for our adult lives. It is my fiercest hope as a mother that, if nothing else, I can live in a manner as principled as she does and teach my own children that adversity is something to be tackled — with courage, sure, but I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you know that someone loves you no matter what, perhaps you don’t need to pretend things are perfect. I think it took both my mother and me a long time to realize this, but I wouldn’t change a day of my past in exchange for this epiphany.