Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Every month, Dân Chúa Úc Châu magazine gives me space for an article written for English speaking readers, especially those in the teen and young adult age group. Every month before the deadline, I sift through ideas in my head and try my best to come up with something that might be of interest to those who care to read what I have to say. To be honest, it’s not an easy task. There are so many things I could talk about, and yet I wonder if any of it is worth reading. It’s not that the topics that come to my mind aren’t important or relevant, but I keep asking myself: “Are they going to say ‘Jeez, there’s another article on so and so…how boring!’”
But this month, the month of May, I’m going to risk it. I’m going to talk about something that’s been said over and over before. I’m going to talk about….mothers. Still if we think about it, it never really gets old talking about someone who is as important to our life as the one who gives us life. The more we talk about them, the more we are able to appreciate who they are and what they do for us.
A while back, a newspaper in Vietnam sponsored an essay writing contest on the topic of “My Mother”. They received 1,199 responses from all over Vietnam. When the judges read all the entries, to their surprise, they found that the vast majority of the sons and daughters who wrote about their mothers had one thing in common. In over 90 per cent of the essays, the author expressed some regret that they had never recognized, appreciated, or did enough to repay for all the love and sacrifices that their mothers had done for them…until it was too late. When they discovered the true value of a mother’s love, she was already gone.
In life, one thing is for sure. It doesn’t matter who you are – you can be the Pope, the President of the United States, a priest, a burger flipper at McDonald’s, or a drug addict – you have a mother. For some people who are unlucky, they have lost their mother early in life. Others have mothers who don’t know how to take care of their children very well. But for most people, they have mothers who love them, sacrifice themselves for them, and adore them. And if the mother is lucky in life, she has children who adore her back.
But in Vietnamese, there is a saying that goes like this: “Tears never flow upward”. What this proverb means is that it’s always the parents who worry over their children. They stay up at night trying to figure out the best ways to take care of their children. They lose sleep when their children become sick or get into trouble. They work two or three jobs to buy the things that their children need or want. But hardly is it ever the other way around. We children sleep soundly at night without knowing what our mothers and fathers are doing. When our parents get sick, we don’t sit and worry like the way they do for us. Tears always flow downward!
I still remember vividly a bittersweet memory that I have with my mother. When I was about 13 years old, my older brother got into a big argument with my father. My brother decided to take his clothes and move out of the house. My mother couldn’t stop him from doing this foolish thing. But her heart ached for him. And when her heart ached, she would sing. She sang songs about a mother’s love for her children.
Ever since I was small, I had heard my mum sing on many different occasions. She sang to lull me to sleep. She sang in church. She sang at wedding receptions. I remember my mother had a good voice. And whenever she sang “Lòng mẹ bao la như biển thái bình dạt dào,” from the sound of her voice, I could feel in my heart that she meant every word.
So when my brother left the house, my mother comforted herself by singing these same songs. One day, she asked me to give her a cassette recorder. Back then, we were still using cassette recorders, and CD players were just becoming popular. She told me to push the record button, and she started to sing. She poured her heart and soul into that tape recorder that afternoon, as I sat and quietly listened to how painful it was for a mother to have to stand and watch her son make mistakes in life.
I have no idea what I did with that cassette tape. We probably threw it out the trash when we did spring cleaning, or moved house. But sometimes when I think about that tape, I regret so much that at that time I did not see how valuable it would be for me.
There are many things that our mother offers us but we have a hard time seeing because we don’t think it’s really important. When she buys us clothes, we don’t wear it because it’s the wrong style and our friends would laugh at us. When she hugs us in public, we get embarrassed because we don’t want to be seen as mama’s boy or mommy’s little girl. When she reminds us to do our homework so that we will have a better future than her, we call it nagging. When she gives us advice with some problems we’re facing, we call it meddling in our business.
Last week, I received a letter from my mother in Orange County, California. It wasn’t just an email, or a Yahoo Messenger or MSN message, but an honest to goodness letter written by hand on white paper, sent through airmail with stamps on the envelope. In her letter, my mum wrote:
I wish that you will always learn good and right things from the people around you, because you are still young. You are new to living in the world, with little experience. So you have to try to learn from those who are above you. I share with you what is in my heart, but as I write this, I wonder if you would think…. ‘I already know, you don’t need to remind me….’ Still, it is a mother’s way to remind and give advice. Perhaps one day in the future, I will not be able to hold a pen…or will not have an opportunity to speak. So whenever I am able to speak I should do it, don’t you think?What my mom said in the letter is very true. It is something we don’t think about or don’t even like to think about, but there will be a day when there will not be any letter, any advice, any reminders from mum. And when that happens, even if we long for any word, even a little ‘nag’ we’re not going to get it.
If in over 1000 essays about mothers, over 90% of the author expressed regret at not having done enough to show appreciation for their mothers until it was too late, I think chances are very high that each of us will also be included in that number. In a way, it’s almost impossible to not have regret. After all, considering how much our mother do for us, can anything that we do ever be enough to repay her? It’s inevitable that we’ll end up wishing that we could have said something more or done something more.
Still, regrets don’t have to be absolute. For me that’s what I am trying to do. I live half the world away from my mother now, but daily I think about her. I pray for her, and whenever I can, I give her a call. Even now, as a priest, and as a missionary, the encouragement, the words of comfort, the prayers, and the advice from mum, they are all important to me. I don’t think it really matters in life who you are, you can’t go wrong if you’re willing to listen to your mother just a little bit more.
So, this is my take on what mothers are like and how we should be with our mothers. I hope this short article inspires you to give a little bit more thought about your relationship with the woman who gave you life. So the next time, when you see your mother wipe the sweat off her eyebrows, when you see her kneel on her knees and pray the rosary, when you see her pull into the driveway from grocery shopping at the supermarket, when she scolds you for not having done the dishes on time, when you see her crash down on the sofa after a full day working at the nail salon, you’ll see and know and understand that, she’s doing all of that for you. And then you’ll remember to thank God for having a mother like that in your life.