I never really understood why she did what she did when she was raising us; what kid does? Now that I have my own children, I think I understand a little better. My mom was tough on me, but she was not cold or overly demanding. Despite all the crap she had to deal with in her life--a ridiculously overbearing and partially insane mother (my grandmother); a father who she thought abandoned her (turns out my grandmother is a psycho); and being a single mom of three boys--she rarely ever broke down in front of us. Maybe once ever, but I could be making that up.
She's a sensitive person, but she never really let on that she is, at least not to my brothers and me. She's the perfect example of what it means to wade through the shit that life gives you and to come out of it clean, dignified. She has a perseverance that is unwavering, and she’s the type of woman that does not accept defeat, no matter how hopeless and distant victory may seem.
There were always signs that she was a softie inside though. She always told us that no matter what we would always be the most important thing in her life. If there is a hell, and any of us were sent there, she would damn the consequences and march through the very gates of perdition to bring us back. She is a woman of sacrifice, and her life is truly one of selflessness. She forked over an untold mound of thousands of dollars to send all three of her sons to Catholic school, for all 12 years of our education, because she wanted to make sure that her boys got the education that they deserved.
One thing I definitely didn’t understand until I had children was why she always tried to shield us from the evil of the world. She never liked watching the news because of all the violence, and she even stopped me from watching
when it first came out ca. 1996. She thought it was too vulgar for my young, impressionable mind, and she was probably right. Now that I’m 27 and all grown, I can watch South Park freely without having to sneak it by her. South Park
It wasn’t until I watched Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark that I began to understand why she parented me the way she did. He asked me who the man in the black coat was, and who all those soldiers in gray uniforms were. I told him that they were Nazis, in a very matter-of-fact way, and then I stopped to think about it. He had no idea who the Nazis were or what they did to humanity. He’s only five (FYI 5 year olds freaking love Indiana Jones), and he still believes that humans are good.
When I thought about the idea of him one day discovering that human beings can be terrible, when I thought of him learning about the horrifying history of totalitarian regimes in the 20th Century, the pain and disfigured humanity wrought by the likes of Adolph Hitler, I actually began to tear up. That boy, so innocent and wide eyed, will one day lose that sense of comfort. And as the tears welled in my eyes, I finally understood that my mother had instilled in me the most important thing that a human can have: love.
I used to think that she was foolish for her failed attempts to shield us from the truth of human existence, but now I understand that it was her love for us, the unyielding imperative to will the good for another human, that compelled her to do what she did. She loved us as we believe that God loves us: unconditionally and compassionately.
I might be a man of virulent vituperation, but I’m also a man of great compassion. People who know me personally know this about me. When I was in the Navy, my chief once remarked that he wasn’t so sure I could kill a man without feeling horrible about it. I asked why and he said, “because I know you Woody. You have so much compassion that there’s no way you would be able to coldly take a human life and be okay with it.” He meant that as a sincere compliment.
Virgil wrote in the Aeneid “Sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt.” Translated it means “there is a compassion for suffering, and it touches the human mind.” Compassion is one of the most important things a person can have, and because of my mother I am able to be in touch with my humanity.
I’m a shit heel for a son. I have difficulty expressing love in words to people other than my children, and I’ve given her a hard time these past 27 years. But if it weren’t for my mom, I would most assuredly not be the man I am today. I owe my selfless sense of sacrifice, my unwavering compassion, and my stalwart work ethic entirely to her. Without her I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fullness of the meaning of humanity, and I just hope that I’m half as good a parent to my children as she was to my brothers and me. Because although I still think you took it too easy on my brothers (the oldest always gets the shaft), we all turned out pretty good I think.
So I’ll say here what I don’t often say in words. I love you, and I’m thankful for how you raised me. Happy Mother’s Day mom, and I’ll see you tonight at dinner =)