Growing up, my mother responded to certain situations with cliches that have stuck with me.
When I would complain about a friend, she'd chide me with, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” When I would argue with my brother, she’d remind me, “You get more with honey than with vinegar.”
Looking back, she taught me many things. She showed me that generosity was about much more than money. That being social meant, most of all, being genuinely curious about other people. That homemade food has the power to bring people together and make them happy.
But one of the most valuable lessons was one she never learned herself.
When she was 76, she was dying from diabetes and complications from a broken hip. There was a family reunion in Pennsylvania, and we traveled two hours by ambulance to the great surprise of everyone who never expected she could make the trip. There were many tears and many photos.
When we showed the pictures to my mother, the first thing she said was, “I hate the way I look in photos.” I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself, You’re 76, dying, and you’re still worried about how you look in a photo? When does it stop?
Yet, as my mother would say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I could recognize in myself the same negative self-image and petty self-loathing. When does it stop? Maybe never.
I thought of how tiring it must have been for her to have carried that baggage around for seven decades. And I resolved then and there to try and take myself less seriously, to drop my own baggage and practice walking more lightly through life.
For this and all of her lessons, I’m grateful. Every time I smile for a photo, or bake cookies, or talk to a stranger in the elevator, I think of her.