What Mama said... and what she didn’t

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By David Whitlock

Growing up, my mother was like a lighthouse to me: Her light was always on, a beacon guiding me through the daily adventures and the bumps and bruises of childhood and adolescence. At the end of the day, she was always there, welcoming me to the safe harbor that was my home.

Years later, when I left home for other places, and the home lights were but a distant flicker, I would remind myself of Mom’s words. And often, they would light my path.

“Always make your bed, and remember, if the sheet is crumpled, the bedspread won’t look straight either.” What’s beneath the surface, she explained to me when I was first learning how to make my bed, matters--- even though it’s unseen. I still think of those words every now and then when I’m having trouble getting the bed sheet straight or having one of “those days” when everything that’s not nailed down is coming loose and feelings like anger, fear, or impatience are crumpling the calmness beneath the surface of my life.

“Always pray before breakfast.” Actually Mom would do the praying; I did the listening. But I learned. And it would become a lifelong habit. During some of those teenage years, I squirmed and twisted. Listening to Mom’s prayers wasn’t part of my agenda, so anxious was I to bolt out the door and race to life’s fast lane where prayer wasn’t necessary, I thought. But eventually, I came back to the breakfast table.

“Time for dinner.” It’s been said that he who never leaves home thinks Mama is the only cook, but Mom’s cooking was the best, at least to me. Dinner meant more than eating. Our family sat around the table, sharing the events of the day, and Mom and Dad listened as my older brothers and I might recount what happened at football practice or how someone pulled a funny prank in school. I’ve tried to pass the dinner table on to my kids.

“Did you do your best?” The first time I recall hearing that question was in the third grade when I brought home a less than admirable report card. I knew the answer was “no,” I hadn’t. I carried that question to college and beyond, and frequently ask it to myself at the end of the day.

“We love you, no matter what.” Love if it’s truly love, is unconditional. Those words followed me and brought me back home, even when I had failed miserably and disappointed others. I’ve tried as best I could to live those words in my own home.

I’m thankful for Mom’s words, but like Erma Bombeck said of her mother, I’m also grateful for the times Mom didn’t speak, the times when she was silent. Bombeck appreciated her mother’s silence during the times when Erma fell flat on her face, or made a poor decision, or took a stand that she had to pay for dearly. “I thank her for all her virtues,” Bombeck wrote, “but mostly for never once having said, ‘I told you so.’”

When the night is darkest and the shore line can’t be seen, maybe it will be the silence that speaks the loudest, directing us home where love and acceptance are spoken without words.  

And maybe this Sunday, Mother’s Day, I’ll call Mom and remind her of what she said…and what she didn’t.