My mother used to instruct me to “watch and learn.” I took her words to heart and began observing people from the time that I was quite young. Sometimes I became so intensely involved in this endeavor that my mom would caution me not to stare. Others noted that I sometimes appeared to be in a kind of trance as I gazed at the passing parade around me and took mental notes inside my head. My tendency to be always alert to the actions and feelings of people has served me well. I have indeed learned much simply by carefully contemplating the images before me as I explore the world. It is a habit that both entertains and informs me.
I have learned over more than six decades that as people we are all generally the same. When it comes to our families, our longings, our needs it matters little what superficial external qualities identify us. Instead our true natures lie within. We are all made of cells, organs, blood, muscles, bones but our thoughts are what make us unique individuals. There are more aspects of our humanity that unite us than divide us. Underneath the color of our skin and eyes and hair is an innate desire to to love and care for one another. We somehow understand even from the youngest age that we cannot survive alone.
We all require the loving touch and concern that almost always begins with a parent. There are of course many different ways that families are formed and not all of them are healthy, but in the main our mothers love us from the very moment that we are conceived. They excitedly plan for our arrival and decide how we shall be named. They nourish us and follow all of the necessary guidelines to insure our health. They may talk to us or sing when they feel us kicking. We grow inside the comfort of their wombs until we are ready to enter the world. For many reasons we do not always have both a mother and a father and there are even occasions when our natural parents choose not to raise us. If we are very lucky we find ourselves in homes where we will be cherished and encouraged to grow into the adults that we were meant to be. Our families provide us with the safety, security and experiences that help us to flourish. We in turn may eventually become parents or caretakers of children and we unconsciously apply the lessons that we have learned from our own childhoods to the process of building new generations of strong and caring individuals.
While I have seen grave evil up close and personal as I have studied the passing parade of life, I have also noted that we humans are mostly good. This was confirmed for me once again at three different events that I attended this weekend. The first was an end of year band concert featuring sixth graders who had just completed their first year of musical training. There was an air of unmitigated joy in the atmosphere from the moment that I drove into the parking area where parents and their youngsters were excitedly making their way to the school cafeteria where the venue was held. Everyone was dressed in celebratory fashion and many people carried cameras to record the moment for posterity. There was an abundance of smiles and laughter lighting up the festivities. The love and pride that the audience felt for the young performers was palatable. I felt a sense of great comfort in knowing that family ties remain one of the most important forces in our society.
I saw a young mother wearing a uniform of the United States Army. She was beaming as she listened to the symphonic sounds of the band. I noted parents of many ethnicities who were all spellbound by the unifying force of feelings that make all of the hard work of parenting seem insignificant. It gave me a sense of great hope to know that the world is still a wonderful place where our babies enjoy so much love.
The following day I went to an Astros baseball game because my twin grandsons were going to perform the national anthem with their school band. Once again I was struck by the number of parents and grandparents who had come just to encourage their kids. The area where we sat was a joyful place, not just because the Astros actually won the game, but mostly because the families were so supportive of one another. Again there were cameras capturing the beautiful sounds of the young musicians and big smiles of pride lighting up all of the faces.
Yesterday on Mother’s Day I saw an effusive outpouring of love for the mamas. Everywhere I went and everything that I did convinced me how much we universally treasure our moms. There were so many visitors at the cemetery that it was as congested as the freeway on a workday morning. Entire families were meeting and placing flowers and balloons on the grave sites of mothers and grandmothers. While these were somber reminders of the impact that our mamas have on us even after they are gone, they said something about just how much we love the women who care for us when we are not able to do so ourselves. It also tells me that our society has not yet gone to rot as so many seem to believe. Our family values are still quite strong.
The makeup of familial groups may appear different from the traditional ways of old but the bonds are as unbreakable as ever. We understand that the people who devote themselves to our upbringing are the ones who contribute mightily to making us who we are. Each hug, assist, lesson, sacrifice, encouragement and bit of wisdom molds us and stays with us for all time. We remember the one who brings us medicine in the dark of night. We will never forget the person who consoled us when we thought we had utterly failed. We have an entire library of memories of our parents and the many times that they gave up their own pleasures so that we might have ours. So often the real best friend and angel that we will ever know is our mother.
Being a mother is very hard work. It’s filled with worries and fears of making terrible mistakes. It requires long hours and uncomfortable moments. Mostly though it is the most rewarding pursuit on this earth. When we raise up our children to the point where we watch them fly away, our momentary feeling of sadness is instantly replaced with the knowledge that we have done something very important. We have given them roots to keep them steady and wings to set them free.
In spite of the headlines that seem to predict the end of life as we know it, the reality is that the vast majority of the world is filled with good and wonderful people. I have watched and what I have learned is that our future is bright. It lies in the millions upon millions who still believe in our children. As long as such people are around things will ultimately turn out to be just fine.