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Jewish World Review May 10, 2002 /28 Iyar, 5762

Tom Purcell

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Don't take her for granted | I used to take her for granted.

When my five sisters and I were babies in her womb, she never took so much as an aspirin for a headache. She never put anything in her body but the nutrients we needed to grow, and I took that for granted.

As a child, my world was rock solid because of her. She put our needs so far before her own that we didn't know she had needs. She loved us without condition. I was so isolated from the fear and pain that so many less fortunate children suffer that I didn't know pain and fear existed. She worked hard to create that world, and I took that for granted.

As a teen, I gave her grief. I told her how wrong she was about religion, child rearing, everything. She was just a housewife, I said, so what could she possibly know. I had no idea that she cried in private because of my attacks. I challenged her because she was strong and I often took her strength for granted.

She was so moral, too. I never could tell a lie, thanks to her, and I even blush when I'm innocent and people think I'm lying. The only thing she hated more than dishonesty was phoniness. She made sure we were, above all, genuine. I took her extraordinary honesty and genuineness for granted.

She was extraordinarily friendly. She treated everyone the way she wanted to be treated. She was always gracious, always full of compassion and understanding. It's no wonder that she was always the first person people turned to when they were having a bad day. Yet I took her friendliness for granted.

She enjoyed simple things. The smell of a flower could send her into fits. The silliness of a child could make her laugh for days. She still sits outside on the deck every morning, enjoying the smell of spring, the taste of fresh, hot coffee, the conversation of her spouse of many years. But I took her simple nature for granted.

While other parents prepared their kids for careers in accounting or engineering, she nurtured our creativity instead. The world needs more wit, more laughter, more beauty, she always believed. The world needs more artists, poets and writers, she said. But I always took her love of beauty and creativity for granted.

By my early 20's, I was becoming like her. I admired beauty and creativity. I had no fear of the world whatsoever. And in my innocence and hopefulness, I took great risks. I tried starting a business or two and eventually failed. I became angry - angry with her.

Unlike me, my friends followed traditional paths. They got good corporate jobs and annual raises and by the time we were 30, they had wives and nice homes. I could barely keep up with my car payments. The world turned out to be much crueler, negative and challenging than I ever imagined, and I took it out on her.

She absorbed my anger, as she always did. She absorbed it for a good long while, even as it grew in intensity. But when I let this anger turn me bitter - when she saw that I'd abandoned my sense of humor and that I was becoming distrustful of others - she revealed her great strength yet again.

The typically sweet woman unleashed a flurry of anger toward me. She cut to the heart of my wrong-headedness, my self-pity, my lazy dishonesty. So loudly and compellingly did she assault me with the truth, I had nowhere to turn but to face myself. And I did.

Somehow I'm 40 already. I've known her for four decades. Yet only now as I'm finally growing a little wiser can I begin to comprehend how blessed I have been to know her.

So great was her goodness that it has taken root in me and in my sisters. I now possess the gifts she always had in abundance. I see beauty where others see nothing. I am not only friendly to strangers, but I greatly enjoy their presence. I love coffee in the morning out on the deck. I make a fine living as an independent writer, and I know a freedom and a joy that my conventional friends dream about.

I know all of these things because she is my mother. I don't take her for granted anymore.

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© 2002, Tom Purcell