When I served in the military, I was taught that a person believes in only two things: their God and their country. Everything else is a thought rather than a belief. I have generally agreed with this mantra and thus think that the word “believe” is overused. My education as a scientist has only strengthened this concept, by supporting the idea of approaching everything logically. However, with the recent death of my mother, I am faced with the startling realization that I do believe in something else. I believe that relationships with other people are one of the most important, and fulfilling, things in life.
One of my mother’s greatest joys was interacting with people. She loved to talk, to listen, to question, and to probe other’s thoughts and experiences. In our family, that meant dinnertime conversations that often resulted in staying at the table long after the food was gone. It meant that my mother had heart-to-heart discussions whether she was entertaining people at home, sitting in a car, or walking around the block. It meant myriad emails and phone calls once I left home, so that she could obtain full reports on all of the new people I was meeting. My mom’s interest in other people was not limited to our family and friends – when we went to public places, like the grocery store, the park, or the library, strangers would come up and talk to her. She always responded, and she was always interested in what they had to say. During a recent visit, my mother rode with me on the bus I take to and from work everyday. She was absolutely fascinated by all of the different people and interactions. She didn’t understand how I could bury my head in a book specifically to avoid contact with my fellow commuters.
The overwhelming turnout at my mother’s memorial service opened my eyes to the importance of relationships with other people. Sharing joys, sorrows, contemplations, and even trivial observations – these are the things that make us human. There is really no logic in my belief. The happiness I feel when remembering good times with my mom cannot be quantified, nor can I measure how much my grief is being lessened as a result of the support from the many people whose lives she touched.
What I do know is this: the next time someone tells me they believe in something, I will not mentally correct the word “believe” to the word “think”. I will listen. I will question. And I will leave the encounter believing that it has enriched my life.
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