There are moments in life that stop you in your tracks and call to you to look, listen, feel. Hopefully those moments happen to you a lot because life is worth paying close attention to. In the hustle and bustle of the day’s tasks it’s sometimes hard to pause and take it all in, and sometimes I worry that we do things in order not to notice, as a way of avoiding disappointment or being uncomfortable. Right now I find myself sandwiched between two key pivot points, Mother’s Day and my son’s college graduation.
As you might imagine, there are a lot of overlapping emotions in that space, because Mother’s Day calls me to appreciate and respect what has come before while the impending graduation is the joy and anticipation of the emerging potential moving ahead. In these moments of singularity, where the factors and the product stand together, we see the impact that each word, deed, intention has on the world around us.
Antje Wegner Leo understands the ripple effect of caring. Several years ago, she noticed something that many of us had missed — the moms whose Mother’s Days don’t come with cards and flowers, but with painful reminders of things that are missing — a partner, a safe place to live, a sense of security. She noticed and she acted. She rallied good-hearted people across the region to come together and demonstrate appreciation for mothers (and other caregivers) as people. It isn’t just about what is donated and given (bags of essentials) but the love that is communicated through the giving. A card accompanies each delivery. The design and words on the card change each year, but the essence is the same — you matter, you are seen in this world, and you are not alone. As a person who loves cards and sees them as precious mementos, I love this part of the mission best. I can’t possibly give Antje, and the cadre of volunteers that help her, their due in a short column, but I want to reflect back to her (and to Heather, Michelle, Sheri, Lisa, Kathy, Donna, Carol, Pat, Mo, Shawn, Keri, and all the new and former and returning and recurring people who make this happen) that this matters, that they matter, that this effort is seen in the world.
Finding the right effort in the world is a common theme of graduation speeches across generations. Call me odd, but I enjoy watching, listening to, and reading commencement speeches. The speeches are like the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” of the 20th and 21st centuries — filled with little tidbits of advice and philosophy. Steve Jobs (whom I did not particularly admire as a person) made a poignant case for his central call to action, “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Admiral William McRaven shared with graduates of the University of Texas at Austin the lessons of camaraderie he’d learned as a Navy SEAL, including “to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.” Cory Booker, long before he was a presidential candidate, told the Stanford class of 2012 about a “conspiracy of love” — the sacrifices and loving gestures that family, friends, and strangers made to get them to that place. And what did he say those “conspirators in love” had in common? Three things — they embraced discomfort, they didn’t sacrifice principles for convenience, and they went where the challenges were.
Looking at the state of the world today, even the state of our own community, where prominent “leaders” often act with disregard for basic decency or respect for humanity, it might get you down. But I turn my attention to the good that’s all around us. There are people that embody the words of wisdom from those speeches. The “Mothers and Others” effort even remembers the importance of including sunscreen in each delivery (which is advice from one of my favorite graduation addresses, memorialized in the song “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” — I urge you to look it up if you’ve never heard it!).
So the message to my son, as he graduates, is the message I was given growing up — life is about love. It might seem lucrative, expedient, glorifying, or just plain easy to be cruel, nasty, brutish, and short with people but everyone was created with a higher and better purpose within; to nurture, protect, and care for not just our mothers, but others.