Today, a special question. Normally this would be a podcast day. However, I’ve run out of storage space on my Libsyn plan for this month. (New podcast next week!) I have a piece for you that’s crowd-tested and audience-approved. I posted the question below on Facebook this week and I got so much love for it I decided it’s podcast-replacement worthy!
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And now, a little life story and a question to ponder…
On my mother’s first day of school she was called to the front to tell the class her name. She was too shy and refused to move from her seat. The teacher decided to make an example of her and tried to beat her with a leather strap. Then the fight began. “It took two teachers to do it” she said. “Two adults against one little girl on her first day of school.”
Mom smiled when she told that story because she came out right and righteous, a fighter. She didn’t frighten easy. She feared for her children. For herself, she kept anger close by and fury to spare in her pocket.
My mom’s birthday would have been a few days ago. Interesting life. She saved many lives, first as a lifeguard and then as a nurse. She wanted to be a psychiatrist but the times and circumstance stood in her way. Hers was the only Irish Catholic family in town when that was a big deal. They were poor and she stayed poor for a long time. Her mother died when she was five and that loss seemed to define her though she never expressed how. As a nurse, my mother saw many terrible things. Later, she traveled the world and saw many wonderful things. She took the good and bad in each hand and neither weight was heavier. She took it all for what it was (a skill I never learned. Bad weighs heavier with me.)
She married, had three children, became a businessperson, a small town politician and, in her later years, a successful investor. Her stock broker called her for tips. As she hung up on him, she said, “What are you calling me for? I’m just a little old lady!” But she was never “just” anything.
Her favorite car was an old Army Jeep. She hated showing any weakness. She lost a toe to a lawnmower. She giggled a lot. A mysterious tropical virus robbed her of her athleticism and the full use of one leg. She read to me a lot when I was little but I don’t remember that. When I became a teen we fought, almost constantly it seemed to me. We didn’t agree on much, ever. When I made her laugh hard, tears escaped her eyes. I do the same when I laugh really hard. I can hold a burning hot grudge, just like mom, too.
The last time I saw her alive she seemed furious that she was dying. Lung cancer. She hated smoking and had never smoked. Fifteen percent of lung cancer patients suffer the punishment without ever tasting nicotine’s pleasure. She hated the unfairness of that.
We never talked about her looming demise. To acknowledge the end would make it real. The whole family stood by our unspoken agreement to never admit she was mortal. I hope she arrived at peace with it. I like to think so. With her last breath, she waved goodbye.
Six thousand, three hundred and sixteen people die each hour. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I believe what we do matters while we’re here and that’s pretty much all we have. I curse the days I fail to make a day count for something. When what I do matters, in some small way, Edith Chute’s parade marches on.
I wasn’t there for one of her most shining moments. She didn’t back down when a local minister arrived at her doorstep to try to shut down free speech, freedom and art. I’m most proud of her for that one moment above all others, I think. In my mind’s eye, I see her: tiny, feet planted, hands on hips and jaw set in defiance. Nobody would ever bully her, not a self-righteous minister or two teachers with a leather strap.
Funny how one moment can define us, isn’t it? Terrifying, too.
Out of a whole life, the people who know and love you will remember you most for one thing.
What will your one thing be?