That’s What My Mama Said

From time to time, in conversations with me or with others near me, people have often uttered words of wisdom or other sayings their mothers have oft repeated to them when they were growing up. They often parrot their mothers with pride or at minimum, with a sense of profound respect. I, however, do not recall any such words from my mother.

I was with my mother for almost 13 years before her murder. During that time, we spent many, many hours together, but I do not recall any sagacious words or pithy sayings that would later serve to guide me through this life. That is not to say my mother never spoke any words of wisdom; it is to say, if she did, I do cannot recall.  But what I do remember are the things she did that are tattooed into the heart of my mind.

To be sure, words can be as important as deeds; though deeds tend to have a longer shelf life. Accordingly, I remember a mother who cooked and cleaned for seven children and an ogre who beat her mercilessly. I remember a mother with whom I would walk for what seemed like miles to Receiving Hospital in Detroit. Upon arrival, we would wait, literally for many hours, before a doctor would see me about my migraine headaches  [headaches that evaporated once I no longer lived with him]. I remember a mother who confided in me about her husband’s infidelity and other cruelties – as if I were the only one she could confide in. I remember a mother who, after she left her tormentor and us, would meet me on my way to school and walk with me each day. I remember a mother who would watch my siblings and me from a safe distance as we played in our backyard. I remember a mother who could have completely abandoned us after being brutalized for more than ten years by the “god” of our hell – but did not. Finally, I remember a mother who let her guard down because I was standing there – neither of us knowing what his plan was – for me to be the audience to her murder.

I do not remember any words of motherly wisdom; I only remember her motherly deeds. Admittedly, there are times when I hear others repeat their mother’s words, I wish I could hear in my mind some words of wisdom that my mother spoke, but I cannot. Nonetheless, I take comfort in remembering the things she did as my mother. I guess it can be said that her actions spoke words of love rather than words of wisdom — and love was what I needed most.

Published in: on April 29, 2012 at 4:54 AM  Leave a Comment  
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A Clash of Convictions

Convictions usually flow from beliefs, and beliefs are often embraced without much scrutiny or examination. Very few beliefs are subjected to a rigorous series of stress tests as a way of verifying their logic or veracity. But whether a conviction is rooted in tradition [usually unexamined] or is the product of dispassionate and arduous inquiry, they will often find themselves in the same space at the same time with other convictions; a clash is inevitable.

When convictions clash there will be a cost — sometimes heavy, sometimes benign or innocuous but there will be a cost nonetheless. This cost can claim not only the participants as its victims but any third-party observers who because of circumstances stand too close. I submit that my grandchildren are third-party victims in a clash of convictions.

When I was a teenager, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Before the age of 19, I married another Jehovah’s Witness and we had four children whom we raised as such. After 20 years of preaching from door to door, conducting Bible Studies, attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall and so forth, I submitted a letter to Jehovah’s Witnesses in which I denounced them. I had finally stopped ignoring my gnawing reservations and put my beliefs to the test; they failed. [That was in December of 1985.] Rejecting those beliefs, however, rendered me an “apostate,” an absolute heretic. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, that was the worst sin of all and required that all Jehovah’s Witnesses ostracize me. And even though, I never tried to dissuade or convince anyone, I was declared an untouchable.  They were not to even acknowledge my presence. My children, as practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, were to do likewise.

But for years, they did not; they would talk to me and even let me visit with my grandchildren. As the years piled up, however, they became less accepting of me due to the hardening of the policies regarding persons of my ilk that were handed down by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Then, I made matters worse; I drove the nail into the coffin. I wrote a book of essays. Twenty-three of the 116 essays were an indictment against religion [not just Jehovah’s Witnesses but all religions]. Immediately thereafter, my children [all but my youngest son who had stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness] severed all ties with me and by default, I cannot see my grandchildren either. This despite the fact that I have never — not once — spoken to my children about why I rejected their religion and what I now believe. Nonetheless, I was deemed a pariah and subsequently scorned by judicial decree.

So, there is the clash of convictions, and my grandchildren are “collateral damage.” I miss them, and they will likely grow up not knowing me. That fact is a source of great pain for me. My children and I are at an impasse. If I “repented” and asked for forgiveness and sought to return to the “flock,” I could see my children and grandchildren. Or, if my children ignored the decrees issued by their religious leaders and embraced me anyway, I could see my grandchildren.

Persons who maintain and live by their convictions are often held in elevated esteem. They are often lauded for being true to them, and to violate those convictions would be seen as hypocritical or craven even if the price for doing so were extreme. The strength of one’s conviction is in direct proportion to the cost one is willing to pay for adherence. To put it honestly, being true to my conviction means more to me than being accepted by my children and my children being true to their conviction means more to them than talking to me.

How ironic. I raised my children to be what they are and now what they are comes to a clash of convictions. Nevertheless, what is even more painful than being rejected is being rejected with ease. I truly understand my children’s adherence to their convictions [they probably do not understand mine]; that is painful enough. I can only hope that ostracizing me because I am an “apostate” is not easy for them. I can only hope that this clash of convictions is hurting them as much as it is hurting me. I can only hope that they too see the price for upholding these convictions is exorbitant. If they do not, then my pain is twice felt and my conviction twice costly.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 3:33 AM  Leave a Comment  
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