Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Birth Day

As a Chestertonian exercise of sorts, I've made it a habit to try to think about a person on their birthday and imagine for one moment that they never existed. Then in the frightful moment of that imagining I am able to see how incredibly thankful I am for that life so taken for granted; what a celebration a birthday actually is. I had a moment like that unexpectedly this summer.

It wasn't anyone's birthday. I was a routine moment in life. I found myself in a huge crowd of people with whom I do not normally spend a lot of time---at a demolition derby and farm exhibition---when a couple of us split off to go get overpriced food for everyone in the group. After my successful trip to the concession stand I was waiting to meet up with my expeditionary partner and my eyes were scanning the mass of strangers for that one familiar face. For a moment I was awash in my isolation from everything and everyone around me. Seconds later she appeared around the corner of a salted pretzel stand, and I was struck by a thought from out of the blue:

Is there anyone in the world who has done more for me in my entire life than that person right there? It was followed by another thought: I am still just a little boy in a big strange world who feels a whole lot more comfortable when he sees his mom.

My mother turns I-don't-want-to-say-how old today, and there is a card in the mail and a gift waiting next time she visits. Probably a phone call if we can connect today too. These are the little things we do for every birth day, often without thinking much about it. This blog-post is not meant to be some cheesy excuse for not fulfilling those annual obligations. I just wanted to say something about parents; about mothers; about birth days; about my mother.

Having become a parent of two boys in the last five years (and about to add two more to the number) I have been inundated with realizations of all that my parents did for me EVERY DAY that went largely unnoticed unless it was one day not done or was done with less than the usual excellence.

Watching my wife raise my boys I am amazed at what it takes to be a mother. Even the nine months of pregnancy are just a ridiculous example of self-giving. Watching myself attempt to raise children I am amazed at how hard it is. Having started out with great ideals I sometimes slip into funks where I can't go one day without raising my voice at my kids; where I am going nuts for a moment of my own; where I find myself wishing I had half a foggy clue what I was doing.

Then I think of my mother and I have absolutely no recollection of her ever raising her voice at me. She was and still is always willing to drop everything she is doing in order to help me out. Anything I actually do well as a parent I probably learned from her and my dad.

If on my best days I ever exhibit a calm restful presence, I got it from my mom. If on my best days I find myself doing things for others without asking them to thank me for it or even expecting in my wildest dreams anything in return, I got it from my mom. If I do what is best for my kids, even at cost to myself, I got it from my mom. Heck, when I wake up tomorrow morning to embrace a new day of life in this world, I got it from my mom!

Of course, there is hope for me yet, not really because of genetic inheritance, but because my mom also told me where she got it. And lately when I think of what it is to be a testament to Christ Jesus, I think less and less of the great preachers and more and more of the people who live day in and day out giving of themselves for others often at great sacrifice to themselves and with little praise to show for it. In that way, for all the attention that I pay to the great writers and thinkers of the faith, I'm not sure I have been witness to a better living example of Christ than my mother.

Sorry if this sounds sentimental. When I stood in that crowd it hit me not like a hallmark card---just bald fact. I'm not going to use this blog to do this all the time, but today I publicly toast my mother. Happy is the day of her birth.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Jon. This was very encouraging for me because I have been thinking a lot lately about the mistakes I did make as a mom and things I wish I had done a better job of. But I do thank God for taking my imperfect efforts and using them for some good. I love you. Mom

matthew a. wilkinson said...


Tony Tanti said...

Nice work Jon. We do have a great Mom.

My hastily written card and day-late phone call will pale in comparison to your tribute here. Kudos to you and Happy Birthday to Mom!

Tarasview said...

that was beautiful Jon.

it brought tears to my eyes.

well said.