Life is comprised of pieces of time sprinkled with pivotal moments. Sometimes these moments have immediate impact. Other times, they are slow to manifest and reveal their importance. But if you listen closely to the soft whispers of life, they will guide you on an unexpected journey filled with beauty, understanding and fulfillment. One such moment occurred for me about eight years ago.
On this particular day, I was helping my mom redo her bedroom. We rearranged the furniture, cleaned, polished and changed the curtains and bedding. Then out came the new floral arrangements, potpourri and matching candles. Proudly, we stepped back to admire our work. That's when Mom decided we needed a little atmosphere and she lit the candles.
Evidently, there was a residue of cleaning solution on her hands, because the moment she flicked the lighter, flames burst in the air. Large blisters instantly formed on her hands and she began to shake. As the tears rolled down her face, she looked up at me and whispered, "The children."
Those were her first words, not a cry, not a scream, not a curse – "the children". I panicked. I though she was in shock. I hurried her into the bathroom to tend to her wounds but the blisters were so large she couldn't move her fingers. I realized I would have to take her to the doctor; I was also concerned about her state of mind. Her response seemed so strange. "Mom, what do you mean, the children?" I asked.
She looked up at me with the sweetest, most sympathetic tear-filled eyes I had ever seen. "The poor children who get burnt." Then she continued to explain, "I saw it on Oprah. If this is painful for me, how much pain would a child be in? I feel so sorry for them…what they must go through."
That was her answer. My mom had second and third degree burns, her hands were swollen, blistered and shaking, but her tears were for the children. Children she saw on Oprah. My thoughts were less pure. At that moment, I didn't care about anyone but her.
Four years ago this October, I lost my mom to cancer. True to her nature, she never complained during her illness. Not once. Even in her suffering, she taught me valuable lessons. One of these lessons came when we were in her hospital room waiting for test results. The doctor finally arrived, flew into the room, delivered his devastating news and then abruptly left.
I was shocked, hurt and angry all at the same time. I turned to my mother and said, "I hate him." She looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, "That's not nice. He was just doing his job. Can you imagine how hard it must be for him to have to tell his patients bad news like that?"
Oh, Mom, you certainly were something.
In the years since I lost my mom, things have changed in many ways. There are sorrows and bittersweet longings, but her gentle lessons continue to touch my life and guide me.
Mom would be proud to know that my husband John and I recently published our first children's book. Although we originally set out to write an entertaining story about a boy with school troubles, I soon discovered that John was the victim of a school bully. He had buried the hurt and humiliation deep inside, but as we stepped further into the writing process, the impact of his experience was evident.
My mother's lessons taught me to listen closely to the soft whispers of life. This perspective helped me to realize that a message emerged from our collaboration, beyond the pages of our book. This knowledge changed the direction of our lives.
Our children's book became the basis for an anti-bullying program. The program, filled with stories, songs and practical advice, teaches children about the consequences of bullying and helps to provide a safe and healthy learning environment.
Today, as John and I speak at schools and community events, I pray that our pieces of time sprinkled with pivotal moments serve to help the children. Because now, I understand.
Necks crane as innocent eyes follow my every move
Silent, enthralled children,
A captive audience
In the wake of their hushed response,
I hear the echo of my own words.
Awaiting an answer
A solution, an explanation,
I cannot provide.
I have let them down
For I can only share my story,
Not repair the social injustice that has befallen them.
They are victims,
As once was I
With only my experience to offer,
I silently pray to ease their anguish,
Whilst knowing I cannot.
Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis are the authors of MILTON'S DILEMMA, the tale of a lonely boy's magical journey to friendship and self-acceptance. As advocates for literacy and children's rights, the authors speak at schools and community events to foster awareness and provide children with a safe and healthy learning environment. For more information, please visit Joyful Productions at http://www.joyfulproductions.com
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