To the best of my knowledge my mother never spoke poorly of anyone, and very seldom of any thing. It was a remarkable quality…but one that I assumed was motivated by a conscious determination to always ‘act properly,’ regardless of circumstances. It was not until I was in my early twenties that I learned the underlying truth.
We were having lunch together one day, and I was carrying on about what a jerk my father was. As poorly as he had treated her, she typically refused to join in my little rant. Instead, she looked me straight in the eye and countered with a glowing summary of his many admirable qualities. And that’s when I finally asked her how it was possible to always be so positive…to never (literally never) speak ill of anyone or anything. She smiled, thought for a moment, then said the following:
“I know you probably think it’s an act, or that I’m either too stupid or idealistic to recognize the negative side of things. But that’s not it at all. When I was young I certainly turned over my share of stones. Enough, at least, to learn that most had worms underneath. Learning that, however, didn’t convince me that the ‘underside’ of things had any more right to claim my interest or attention than the ‘upside.’ In my mind, the only relevant question was which of the two I would allow to dominate my thoughts and feelings. The one was typically unpleasant, the other was not. Early on I decided which view I wanted to guide my life. Put simply, you can spend your life on deck, where the air is fresh and the view is promising and far…or down in the boiler room. It’s entirely a matter of choice.”
* * *
Thoughts of my father still hover somewhere below the waterline. But whenever I think of my mother, I now see her standing ‘topside’ next to the rail, looking to the horizon…and beyond.
Elnora Lucille Russell-Lawson, Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, September 6, 1905 – Died (age 83) in Selah, Washington, May 11, 1989. (She was the eldest daughter of Benjamin Franklin Russell & Rachel Hannah Miller-Russell)