In an earlier post, I promised that I would introduce you to the women who were central in defining my life. There were four. I learned something different from each one. However, it was only through this journey that I came to understand how those lessons could be knit together to make me a whole who-I-am person. My first profile of remarkable women is about four of the most important people in my life. Like all of us, these ladies were not perfect people, and it is not my intention to idealize them; nonetheless, they were women who lead powerfully meaningful lives in their own way and were role models for many.
The First Pillar
The first lady I want to introduce to you is my mom. She was tough as nails. I do not believe that there was a life storm that could undo this incredible woman of strength. She was only 5 feet tall on the outside, but she claimed the 5 feet on the inside and was truly 10 feet tall. After my father died, I watched my mom evolve into a multi-faceted, giving character. She was the strength for so many. She was always there with wisdom, clarity and encouragement. I met my mom anew as a friend in the final years of her life. We healed many wounds and I saw the dignity and courage that had carried her through hardships and heartaches. From my mom, I learned perseverance, determination and stoicism.
The Second Pillar
The next lady of my life is my grandmother. When I was little, I used to hide behind her chair and watch TV with her. She may or may not have known that I was there, but I prefer to think that I looked on in secret. Later, we became play buddies, playing double solitaire and scrabble while watching mysteries like Perry Mason together. She was gracious, poised, charming and always in charge. When I hear the Lionel Richie song “Three Times a Lady”, I think of her. From my grandmother, I learned the power of presence.
My Third Pillar
My third lady is my godmother. She was my rock. She was organized, efficient, purposeful and warm. She had this certain smile that when you saw it you knew to beware because mischief was afoot. She was my confident after I got out of college. I could talk to her about anything. Her answers were honest; her advice always on point. I relied on her understanding to see me through so much of the just-starting-out-on-your-own heartaches and challenges. She had an inner knowing that anchored her faith and a quiet strength that could conquer any foe. When she died I realized what she had been in my life and how important her wisdom and insights were. I have worked intentionally to cultivate that inner knowing and to ground my faith with her wisdom. From my godmother, I learned the meaning of inner peace. I also learned about living through faith and the strength that doing so generates.
My Fourth Pillar
My fourth lady is my mother-in-law. During the early years of our relationship, I lost both my grandmother and my godmother. This wonderful lady –no bigger than my mom – wrapped her arms around me, filled the gap those losses created and taught me both tenderness and compassion. She was the quintessential southern mother – stern when she needed to be, soft as room-temperature butter when it mattered. Her kitchen was always filled with great things and the pots never seemed to empty. There was always enough food for whoever walked in the door. Her open honest loving spirit embraced everyone she met. With her, I learned to begin to feel safe. From my mother-in-law, I learned about loving.
All four of these women were women of the depression years. They had lived during the tumultuous years of World War II. They had endured segregation. They fought to be triumphant over hardship, loss, despair and distress. They stood as tall as beacons to those of us who came after them despite their inner anguish and private tears. These ladies taught me different things, but above all they each taught me to survive. They also taught me the importance of those upon whose shoulders we stand, for without them, the shifting sands of life would overtake us.
I thank these four great cornerstones of my life with all my heart. Their lessons are finally gelling into a cohesive understanding and because of what they shared – by example and through wisdom – I am becoming…