Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Momma's Eyes

The adage goes, “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.” Seeing as I myself am a woman, I would like to re-word that and say, “Beside every strong woman is an equally strong woman.” Luckily for me, God was being benevolent when He assigned children to mothers the day I was born: He sent me to my mom. 

Like most little girls, I fell for the Disney fairy tale version of love: singing birds, red roses, declarations of undying love whilst sitting on a magic carpet. But in 2001, all that changed when my dad had a cerebral aneurysm that led to a stroke. He was in a permanent vegetative state—much like Teri Schiavo—for almost two years. My mom stayed at the hospital—and later the skilled nursing facility—every single day, from the time visiting hours began until the staff politely yet unyieldingly told her to leave and “get some rest.." Without words, she stripped me of my love-as-a-Disney-fairytale blinders about love and showed me its meaning, its essence: love is the overlooked, small details in life—as simple as brushing bangs from a sweaty forehead—that when added up, create a lifetime of memories that transcend death. My mom loved my dad and saw him, not the bed sores, gaunt face, or the tracheotomy and feeding tubes. In his frail hands that she held in her own, mom felt the strength of a man who was her first date, first kiss, first love, first everything. And because so much of life is created from memories and my dad no longer had them, she whispered a re-written version of the vows she made years ago: “I will love, honour, and cherish you for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, even if death do us part.”

My mom also taught me about worth, and of sacrifice, too. After my dad passed away, we hit a rough patch financially. We were  born into privilege, sheltered, and were always taken care of. But that was then, and mom understood our new reality. My mom went from being a housewife and a mother with a degree in teaching, to a minimum wage worker. She’s intelligent enough and has the education, but unfortunately so many in society judge other people’s abilities superficially. My mom’s accent has been a hindrance in other people seeing past the ethnicity to get to her capabilities.

It’s not just from strangers that my mom had to assert her worth. My mom bore the brunt of insults from my dad’s family, as well as faced ridicule from her own sister, who scoffed at her minimum-wage employment and told her that she shouldn’t reach for the skies by sending me to college. And yet even at the face of this indignity, my mom held her head defiantly and told naysayers, “My daughter has the brains and she can do it. I believe in her. I know her worth.”

“I know her worth.”

I think it’s ironic, actually, because sometimes I wonder if my mom knows just how beautiful and strong she worthy she is. I know it’s difficult for her to remember how we used to be, and to watch other people live out her dreams—teaching. Because of her sacrifice and because her eyes are a daily expression of her faith in me, I am a strong woman who believes that the word “impossible” should only exist in theory, but not reality. I have learned that though society is a collective, it is not an accurate judge of a person’s strength, beauty, or worth. Both can only come from within, and is most truthful when viewed through the lens of love. And wouldn’t you know it? With my mom, I can see crystal clear.

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We must never permit the voice of humanity
within us to be silenced. It is Man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him a Man.

--Albert Schweitzer

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

--Viktor E. Frankl