I learned by example to lead with kindness. My mom, despite the challenges she faced in life, always had room in her heart for anyone in need. She was a die-hard volunteer and champion for the developmentally disabled – in part because of my sister’s circumstances and the compounding of physical and intellectual disabilities. But more than that, mom knew she herself was broken and relished opportunities to serve others.
Coming from a family of dysfunction, she nearly raised her siblings – out of necessity – but as I look back on her life, I realize there were tandem motivations. Obligation? Sure. When your own mother can’t mother, the eldest often steps in. Mom/Sue did just that. But I also believe she was motivated and driven by her genuine, tender-hearted nature that became a theme throughout her life. Not just as she navigated hurdles for my sweet sister, Lisa, but how she was keenly attuned to hurt in others.
There are days when I recognize that my intuitive nature came from mom. She was a master at identifying unspoken pain (largely because she carried so much of her own). Whether it was a gentle hug or a smile, Mom/Sue knew how to brighten the lives of friends, family…but most of all, strangers. Or as she often put it “friends she just met”.
As she grew older, addictions clouded her innate desire to help and dementia jumbled up the details, but everyone she met was a ‘friend’. I believe her cantankerousness was perceived as an endearing quirk, which kept people close to her – less alienated – longer than otherwise likely.
Even toward the end, mom relished the opportunity to tell a bawdy, dirty joke. Her repertoire was well-worn, but we laughed as if we heard each story for the first time…as she time traveled with humor. Years on a barstool? Highlights in her life, no matter which side of the bar she was on.
Today, as I think about inspirations of kindness and caring, my mom is on my mind but so is Booker T. Washington. Different as they were, they shared a life perspective that serves me well. It’s all about ‘lift’. Take a look and hop over to The Heart of the Matter to take a peek and share your thoughts in comments.
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