At some point during most of my Four Simple Words talks I mention my mom Kath (Elsie’s youngest child) as an example of someone who modeled the words day in and day out. Although she passed away 10 years ago (!) last month, she remains a perfect model of a person who lived ‘its not about me’ every day.
There are literally too many examples of what that looked to narrow it down to a Top 10 List. I still have others reminding me of the ways that mom served them. Our immediate and extended family, my childhood friends, the kids she taught, the kids she tutored. Neighbours we knew well. Neighbors we didn’t. Bank tellers, LCBO clerks, the local grocery store owner. Friends from her childhood. Friends she just met. Kath was always looking for ways to bring joy and happiness to others. (True story #1: We are STILL using up her napkin collection, which was curated with an eye to the most random needs including ways to celebrate the usual annual holidays AND publicly declare your favorite wild animal.)
At her funeral, mom’s best friend found a perfect quote from the author Hunter S Thompson that summarized her life pretty well:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”Hunter S Thompson
This speaks volumes to how mom lived. ‘Wellness’ was an evolving concept for Mom that took lots of crazy and wild turns. She was the life of the party, and right up until her unexpected and sudden death (she hated the word passing!) she was skidding into fun, joy and service with a smile on her face and a glass of boxed red wine in hand.
What is so inspiring about Mom is what drove her into that cloud of smoke. She LOVED to serve others. It is what gave her energy, focus and a sense of self. She was in her element not just planning the party, but looking for a personalized gift to have for each person as they arrived or left. (Sometimes both). It was in her later years , as it was my turn to support her, when I fully realized just how important ‘serving’ was to her well being. Unable to serve others the way she had was physically and emotionally hard for her. During this time I truly saw how important giving was to her physical and mental well being and I became a proxy for her many acts of service. Mom’s wellness was tied directly to her serving others: she received just as much joy and energy (maybe more) those that she was serving.
CV Harquail, author and feminist thought leader, referenced this tension during our Forum #2 about the risk and pressure of serving others to the detriment of yourself. The courageous conversation is that this was probably true of mom at times: she gave very generously of her (limited) resources, (scarce) time and (many) gifts often to her detriment. (True story #2: No one could call mom financially conservative. I was convinced we were going to see flowers from the Shopping Channel at her service!)
Our conversation with CV is still working its way through my head and heart as we think about servant leadership vs blind or forced sacrifice. Mom is the textbook example of someone who could have looked after herself better. She gave too much and most certainly was constrained by the oppressive systems that all women of her generation faced. And yet – and this is the struggle I am working through – her commitment to serving others was the purpose and motivation to her well-lived life. It’s not about me was a driving force that gave Mom signifigance, accomplishment and reward. It was who she was.
This contraction is going to be something that is going to take a long while to resolve. I believe that Elise saw what the future is demanding by reminding us that it’s not about me. At the same time, that service can’t come at a cost of not allowing each of us to live whole, free and joy filled lives. And in the very middle of that tension is my kind, loving and funny mother. Thanks for the how to serve well lessons, mom.
Now if you will excuse me, our family is going to enjoy some boxed wine with a wide selection of moose and panther napkins…