It is my unproven but firm belief that the level of our love for God is precisely equal to the love we have for our mothers. From our mothers and from God we learn that we are not alone and that we are loved. From our mothers and from God we learn that what we accomplish in life is so much less important than how we behave in life. From our mothers and from God we learn to trust the goodness of others even when we are not shown goodness. From our mothers and from God we are taught not to be afraid.
If we cannot learn these life lessons from our mothers, it is hard to understand how we can learn them from God.
I learned these lessons from Rosalie Gellman, who is 96 and lives at a wonderful Jewish home for the elderly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Even though Mom does not hear much, she does not take a single pill and can still beat me at Scrabble. She raised four of us and for many years cared for my dad, Sol, who died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.
Mom was trained as a librarian, but with her intelligence and organizational skills she could have been a CEO. In my mom’s generation, however, the demands of family dictated a selflessness that was utterly consuming. Even so, Mom never resented her burdens and never complained.
Don’t mistake me. There were times when my mother willfully intruded on my life. One day in the ’60s, when I was demonstrating against the Vietnam War in front of the Milwaukee draft board, a cop yelled out, “Is there a Marc Gellman here?” The cop walked over, handed me a brown paper bag and said, “Your mommy packed you a sandwich.” That was pretty much the end of my protesting days.
Later in life I became more conservative. Once, I had the bad judgment to tell my very left-wing mom that I had voted for Ronald Reagan. That year I received a birthday card with a picture of President Reagan and this message: “You deserve each other! Happy Birthday.” Mom is a piece of work.
Mom knew how to praise my best work while making clear that I had to continue to try harder. When she likes my column she will tell me, “I got your latest column, and I loved it.” When she is less than overwhelmed she says, “I got your latest column and the lady down the hall loved it.” All others are met with, “I got your last column,” followed by silence. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional praise.
Growing up we never had a lot of money, but when I read Mother Teresa’s teaching that “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty,” I knew that because of Mom and Dad I was extravagantly wealthy.
A final word for readers who never knew their moms or had a mom who did not know how to love them. On Mother’s Day call to mind the women in your life who saved you from emotional poverty by making sure you knew that you were wanted and loved. All of them brought you into life and love, but not all of them birthed you. Mothers come in many versions.
And to those who had time with your mother that death has ended, honor her memory by trying to love someone the way she loved you. Remember her on Sunday, and tell stories about her to your family — stories they may not know. Remember her because even the memory of the righteous is itself a blessing.
Happy Mother’s Day.