Today is my mother’s birthday. She’s a hard woman to buy gifts for. Every year, in the weeks and months leading up to her birthday, I start pondering the possibilities. But I always wind up feeling like Mama has been short-changed. The problem is, what possible gift do you give to someone who is herself one of the most precious gifts God ever gave to the world?
In the end, the gifts don’t matter. They are transitory things. What matters the most to Mama is the love that is behind the gift. She appreciates nick-nacks, figurines, wall plaques and t-shirts, and is genuinely humbled by larger gifts such as computers and karaoke machines, but so generous is her heart and spirit that a scrap of paper with a few scribbled but heartfelt words become her truly treasured possessions.
I have no doubt that Mama will spend her birthday serving others. When I spoke to her this morning, one of the first things on her itinerary was the cook breakfast for her sister who lives in the apartment beside her. That sister’s visiting son and grandson left a mess in the kitchen sink last night, so it’s a given that Mama will wash those dishes so that her sister doesn’t have to. And she’ll walk her sister’s dog. And wash her clothes if need be. Only after she finishes there will Mama wander down the hallway to check in on her friend, Libby, or help whoever else in the apartment complex who might need some love from Mama Peggy. We joke that when we call and cannot get Mama on the phone, that “she must be making the rounds.” All this from a woman who turns 78 years old today.
There is nothing any of us can say or do to repay the mountains of love that Mama has always heaped upon all of us. For her, the greatest gift has always been the giving. Through her generosity of spirit she has given so much to the world that those scales can never be balanced. Those of us who have been blessed by her many gifts can only smile and accept her amazing selflessness. To do otherwise would be to rob Mama of the true gift that she receives from helping others.
I will never be the person my mother is. No one can be. But she has set such a shining example of what a human being should be that it would dishonor her if I, and we, didn’t at least try to live by her example. She is a woman who doesn’t shout out her own name from the rooftops like so many others, eager to take credit for her good deeds. She is a woman who feels guilty for being given the privilege of helping others, and for whom a simple “thank you” is worth all the praise in the world.
I’m lucky enough to have some small part of Mama’s generous spirit within me. But I also have my father’s quick wit, temper and sharp tongue. Like so many other children of great people, I often feel like a pale reflection of my mother. But I know how very proud she is of me. She accepts me, just as she does everyone else, warts and all, no matter how many times I make a mess of things. Where Mama is concerned there are no second chances. There are infinite chances. However much we might let her down, she will always open her arms to us and ask us what we need to get through our day.
However much I’ve tried, there really are no words that can sum up Peggy Chaney. She would be quick to tell you that God so loved the world that He gave His only son. I would contend that the fact that God sent us Peggy Chaney, and others like her, proves that He still loves us. No, I don’t think Mama is perfect. She’s as human as the rest of us, prone to frustration and disappointment. But she has shown us, or me at least, that any problem can be faced with grace and humility, and that in the end what really matters is that you lived your life so that it mattered, and matters, that Peggy Chaney was here. We are all the better for the fact that Peggy Chaney is here.
I love you, Mama. I wish I could be with you today. We’ve been apart for far too long. Hopefully fortune will soon smile upon us and Victoria and I can make a trip to North Carolina. Maybe I’m just being selfish, but I am long overdue for one of your wonderful hugs. And it’s been far too long since someone cooked enough food for a Marine division and insisted that I eat it all myself. I would wish you all the most wonderful gifts in the world, but I know that you would be embarrassed by them (and would give them to other people). So instead I will offer the one gift which I know means the most to you. A simple “thank you”. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for giving me life. And thank you for being the most wonderful gift a son could ever hope for.
I love you.