God Squad: Life lessons from Mom

God Squad

Rabbi Marc Gellman God Squad

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.

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Thanks to all of you who shared with me the most important life lesson you learned from your mother. Here are a few:

L. I think the most important lesson my mother instilled in me was the value of a good work ethic. If you're going to take the time to do something, do it right. To this day, she approaches life this way. And besides, you shouldn't argue with a 91-year-old, if you're smart.

S. Mom never said an unkind word to anyone. She was devoted to her family and survived the loss of two children and more than one grandchild without losing faith or becoming bitter. I was visiting one day and watched my parents doing the dishes together and laughing over something small and silly. At the time, I realized the secret to a long and happy marriage is to do things together and share lots of laughter. One day, Mom was at my house, with my orange tiger cat happily curled up in her lap, purring. I commented to her how lucky I was to have such good pets. Her reply (despite the severity of her dementia at that time) was, "Pets are like children. If you give them a lot of attention, they develop to their full potential." My parents had a plaque hanging near their front door that said, "Love never faileth." It now hangs near my front door. I cried on Mother's Day because I missed my mom. There was some sadness in the tears, but also happiness for the special person she was and all that she taught me.

J. It was 1943. Two of my older brothers were in the Army. I had just turned 16, and my friend talked me into hiring out with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. When I asked my mother for permission, she said I had to pay board of $10 a week to her. I was only making $40 at the time. Eventually, I found my future wife and made plans to get married. At the wedding, my mother presented me with a bankbook with all my board monies intact. She told me if she hadn't done this, it would have been spent foolishly. This taught me a good lesson.

P.S. I retired from the railroad in 1989 after 46 years of service.

L. I haven't enjoyed Mother's Day in the past five years because my mom has passed away. I should still celebrate this holiday in my own way, though, and you made me think about what she taught me. Her most important lesson was to be nonjudgmental and to have patience with everyone. I recall this lesson almost daily. I've worked in the service industry and now work behind a pharmacy counter, where I meet a lot of people in need. Some are elderly and just need help with swiping their credit card, while others have mental illness. Some people I work with are bothered and annoyed by these people, but I take joy in them and happily help with whatever they need. Recently, an older, mentally diminished woman was so grateful for my help that she gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me she loved me. When things like this happen, or even when people simply thank me for helping, I remember that I'm doing exactly what my mom would have done, and what she would want me to do in such a situation.

F. Aside from all of the "Emily-isms" left to me by my wonderful mother, which I repeat daily, the greatest thing she taught me was not to lament over the things I don't have, but to look at what I do have and be happy.

M. Mom taught me, "Remember, what you say and do reflects on our family" and also, "When you think you're bad off, take a look around you and you'll see there are others worse off than you."

L. Mom's best advice to me was: "Don't lie. If you tell one lie, it will become necessary to tell 10 more to get out of it."