THIS, I BELIEVE
I believe that our most important task is to honor each other in everything we do. I believe that it is our central obligation to know, understand and appreciate the role that each of us plays in the lives of the other.
It is impossible for me not to believe this. I came to this realization on Sunday, 18 August 1985, sitting by the bedside of my dying mother. She had taken her own sweet time dying, from the previous year when she was first, and finally, diagnosed as having cancer; to the spring, when a surgeon botched her hysterectomy and thereby delayed treatment until the restorative surgery healed; to that summer, when she demanded that radiation stop after a brittle, cancer-laden bone broke while she was being transferred from chair to gurney.
And so, a long, painful journey was drawing to an end. I sat by her side during my weekend shift. My siblings in St. Louis had the bulk of her care; I came from Kansas City on the weekends, often getting lost in the highway drone and not knowing whether I was coming or going until I stopped to get coffee and spy a date on someone’s newspaper. I did not know she had but three days to live, that hot Sunday in St. Louis, but I did know that she needed to take her medication and would not swallow.
I stroked her throat, as we had been taught, and held the liquefied Demerol to her lips in a silver spoon.
“Swallow, Mama, swallow,” I coaxed. “Swallow now, please Mama, swallow.” From her moans, I knew she was in pain and needed the drug so that she could rest. “There there, Mama,” I soothed. “Swallow. . .”
At that moment, her head snapped toward the sound of my crooning voice, and the glaze in her eyes cleared if only for a moment. She narrowed her brows, and lifted her hand to push mine away.
“I am still your Mother,” she scolded. “Don’t patronize me.”
I froze; and the moment passed. The focus left her eyes, and she fell back onto the pillow. Her brief spate of clarity gave me focus, however, and reminded me of what I knew, and what I will forever believe: We must respect others, we must honor their positions in life, in our lives, and never take any action, nor speak any words, that dishonor them.
I do not always follow this belief. I find myself raising my voice to waitpersons, shrilly chastising customer service people, even using biting sarcasm with my husband or son. And when I do, I am brought back to that Sunday night, twenty-one years ago, when my dying mother gave me one last lesson to guide my life: Honor thy mother. . .and your husband, your child, your friend, and the stranger next to you in line. . .Honor thy mother, for in honoring others, you honor yourself..
This, I believe.
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