Today I met a little girl in pink on the street corner, waiting shyly for the bus. I knew before I asked that she was in middle school because I liked her, and because she smiled at me even before I said hi. I asked about the construction across the street. What I really wanted was a way to just check in with her, make sure she was okay all by her little pink self with all those construction workers nearby. She said she went to Eisenhower Middle School and practically told me her address, to which I responded by practically telling her mine, just so we could both feel that the world was safe. I told her something like what I felt God wanted me to say to her in our tiny moment, that He loved her and thought she was wonderful. My words were kind of boomerangy, coming back to me without seeming to take root. She thanked me nicely and called back as I left that it was nice to meet me. So maybe something stuck.
This afternoon as I lay in my cozy bed, my body trying to convince my mind to nap, I prayed that God would “get her”. I learned that little prayer from my mother. Now it is mine. These seem like such aggressive words from my shy but sturdy mum, I first thought, but then I remembered one incident that showed her spitfire. The neighbor boys in the house next door were perpetually nasty to my brothers and I growing up. They might’ve been mean to Holly too, but most people can’t find it in them to mock a toodling three year old. Anyway, on more than one occasion the neighbors found ways to send John, Mark or I sprinting indoors, teary, shouting tiny threats, but really just wanting the comfort of our mother. One day mom had enough. She marched over to those neighbor boys’ mother, fists clenched at her side, and she told her exactly what was going on and what she thought. And the neighbor mother yelled back, but my mom held her ground, just like that. If we had listened to metal back then, I would’ve been chanting Twisted Sister after her: “We’re not going to take it! No, we ain’t gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it anymore!” But I didn’t have to. Mom did the hard work, the standing up for the little sad, scared ones.
She usually does that, in her quiet way, but sometimes, when necessary, in a loud way. I’m proud of her, because she is way bigger than she thinks she is, and is making a bigger splash in eternity than she knows. I always want her to write a book and tell her story, to stand on a stage and let the universe, or a woman’s book club, know how much of a hero she is and how much she has overcome. They would ooh and aah at her grit and tenacity, and go home and start a revolution. But she quotes Henri Nouwen almost every time I bring up this idea. “Sometimes God calls us to smallness.” She means it. As long as I can remember, she’s been a silent conqueror, one with a sign outside an abortion clinic, inviting woman entering to choose motherhood instead. Or quietly but fiercely forgiving the massive wounds inflicted on her before she was big enough to defend herself. Or for me, an ear instead of a mouth when I had a problem. She’s a real soldier – that must be where my brother in Iraq got his cajones, and where I got my Joan of Arc ferocity at the smell of injustice. From my mother, I’ve learned to fight and pray and listen. And I think those all fall under the category of love, when we do them at the right time. And Love is the greatest command. It always wins in the end.