I believe we are blessed to be a blessing.
This is what my mother told me many times as I grew up. My mother was the sort of woman who didn’t like to see people left out. Every Christmas and major holiday there was always some shirttail relative around. This used to bother me as a boy. “Why do they have to be here?” I’d ask, annoyed.
And Mom would sit me down and explain “Uncle Earl” or our neighbor down the street didn’t have any other family here and she just thought it would be nice if we shared ours. “After all,” she’d remind me gently. “We’re blessed to be a blessing.”
While I resented this at the time (my mother was full of little maxims), I grew to respect her for it more and more. I came to appreciate the quirky charms of each new guest, discovering that, in many little ways, generosity usually does pay off.
Of course, there’s a lot in life too complicated to be solved by simple kindness. I began to learn that when my mother died of cancer when I was 24. My grief was hard to manage and I considered quitting grad school. But with my father’s support, I soldiered on and got my degree as a psychologist. And in the months that followed, I tried hard to live Mom’s wisdom through my work.
But believing in blessings isn’t always easy, let alone passing them along. One November, some years later, my father suffered a bad stroke. And then I got laid off from work. Visiting Dad in his nursing home, I felt far more burdened than blessed. But I did my best to do right by him.
Dad had lost the ability to speak or swallow and was being fed by tubes. He was increasingly unresponsive and at times I wondered if he even knew who I was. On one particularly bad afternoon, he tried to pull out his feeding tubes. “Don’t, Dad,” I said, restraining him.
It was then he growled at me, a guttural sound so full of rage, I knew the Dad I loved was finally completely gone. I closed my eyes to keep from crying. And then I felt a hand on my cheek, as my father clumsily tried to brush away my tears.
Dad died not long after, but I have never forgotten that day in all of its complexity. I’ve come to believe that I AM blessed, but that blessings are rarely far from tribulations in this life. Lucky for me, I’ve also learned we’re rarely far from one another.
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