My Mother’s Shoulders

I was walking down the sidewalk on a hot and muggy Alabama afternoon and saw my shadow looming in front of me. My heart caught as I noticed the shape of my shoulders. Even distorted and exaggerated as my image was from the angle of the sun and the packages I carried, it was a shape that I knew so well- my mother’s shoulders.

Somehow, seeing that similarity, the broad shoulders with the sharp ‘V’ on each side, made me feel my mother close to me. It brought back a flood of memories, and in my mind’s eye I could see her shoulders, rounded with age and weariness, knowing that would be me some day when it was my turn to take on the mantle of an old woman. Not yet, though.

I also thought of the many heavy burdens I saw her carry on those shoulders over the years- many I’m sure I never even know about.  She carried sadness and failure from divorce, responsibilty for her children, fear about making ends meet on a less than meager budget. So many difficult challenges, all on her, all handled with grace and humor. I like to think  that I inherited those strong shoulders, that even when mine round with age, they will hold up my own convictions, my courage, my love.

With all of the sadness of late, I had a fleeting thought that I was glad my mother was not here to see the hate and the violence. She would watch the news and take each sorrow to heart, asking what has happened to this old world. I wonder the same thing, but, like my mother before me, I believe that the world is a good place- we have just gotten off track. People react in passionate response to hateful acts, often perpetuating the same behaviors that they condemn. A vicious and futile cycle. I see petty fights on social media and shake my head- don’t we have more important issues to face as a people? I don’t claim to have the answers, and the past weeks have left me with a heavy heart and many tears.  All I know to do is to follow my heart and do my best to be kind to the people I meet and stand up peacefully to injustice when I see it.

I am a teacher. My students are black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, etc.  They are straight, they LGBT. They are Republican, Libertarian, and Democrat. They come from many different religions and beliefs. They are all beautiful to me, perfect in their diversity. Some are angry- some saying words that make me sad, like “Us” and “Them”, so young to be faced with such hatred and fear- but it has always been that way- each generation has faced these battles. It just seems that the stakes are bigger now, our people more desperate. I can never truly understand their experiences and their anger, but I do know that we are always stronger, always at our finest, when we stand united against hate and bigotry. The more we allow fear to rule the day, the farther the divide between us grows, the more difficult it will be to cross. And we so need to cross, clasping our hands together in empathy, compassion, unity, and hope. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is unthinkable.

I want to follow my mother’s example, using my strength, my heart, my mind, to hold up the world with love and humor.  I can’t fix humanity’s problems, but I can be a part of the solution. Every single person can make a difference by thinking before speaking and acting, by educating ourselves about our differences so that we can understand, appreciate, and value the rich diversity that surrounds us. No one way is right, no one political party or religion or color, or orientation- it all has a place, all has its own beauty and worth- all except for hate. There is never a place for hate.  If we could just open our hearts and minds to see that and embrace it…perhaps then, only then, will we have peace.

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