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Archive for June, 2009

Mom smallerJune 6th., 2009

Today is my mother’s birthday. If she were still alive, she would have been seventy-eight years old now, and I have no doubt she would still be impressing us with her fortitude and personal faith. It’s something rarely seen anymore. Nowadays, such conviction is not just suspect, but often an irritant. How can we trust someone who seems to have all the answers to life’s mysteries? Yet, while my six siblings and I were little, those explanations, told to us as she ironed clothes or baked cookies, formed a solid blanket of security around us, and helped us embrace events that normally would have brought childhood dismay. For that, I am grateful.

As fate would have it, Mom lost her own mother at a very young age, and was sent by her less-than-nurturing father to a convent school at the impressionable age of twelve. She was bright and headstrong, and the only girl in a family of hard-drinking, hard-fighting older brothers. There was a new stepmother, and life at home was growing steadily more difficult. What could be safer and more respectable than a Catholic convent school?

It was exactly what my mother needed to put structure and meaning into a life that was sometimes chaotic and dysfunctional. The world of the convent was a simple one: a time and place for everything; a logical explanation behind every rule; a common goal of discipline and purity; and above all, faith in a higher power.

My mother loved it, and in many ways, those very strict, proper nuns were the closest she ever experienced to mothers in her teenage years. She did well, graduated from grade twelve at fifteen years of age, and within two months had been appointed teacher at the one room school in her hometown. All of that helps explain why she found it so easy to profess her beliefs to others, without being self-conscious, without wavering. It also must have been an asset in later years, when there were seven children of her own asking her to explain the meaning of life and death and everything in-between.

That’s what I find myself thinking about today, on what would have been her birthday. I find myself hearing, all over again, the things she told us.

We asked her why God allowed people to suffer, and she told us that life’s tragedies were not God’s doing, but the result of living life in an imperfect world. She said that somewhere, God was crying for us just as we were crying. She reassured us that God had a special place in heaven for all people who had lived hard lives on earth. Best of all, she said that when we died, we would discard the ailing, aging bodies we had on earth, and magically transform into beautiful, angelic spirits. She said paradise had every wonderful thing that we’d ever loved in our lives on earth, and that there would be nothing but perfect happiness there.

I’m not sure if her interpretation of heaven was altered for the sensibilities of children, but it gave us great peace. Now that I am older, I often yearn for that wonderful reassurance of a perfect afterlife, especially on a day like my mother’s birthday.

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