Not perfect

I was not the perfect son. And my mother’s stories gave lots of evidence to support that.  I have been (and may still be) willful, careless, obtuse, and a host of other unsavory adjectives. But she put up with these qualities and with me.

I have long had a hard time buying a Mother’s Day card. I like cards that tell the truth. And most Mother’s Day cards don’t really do that.  They portray a perfect child paying homage to a perfect mother. And my mother was not perfect – any more than I was. Having boldly stated that societal heresy let me also clearly say that she was good and caring, responsible and loving. But she was not perfect. She knew her faults and foibles and worked against them the same as I know mine and work against mine. Over our 66 years of relationship I disappointed her on many more than one occasion and she has at times disappointed me. Often and especially earlier in my life we would let one another know of our disappointments. In my youth I would let her know who it was I wanted her to become – that perfect mother like we saw on 50’s TV –  wise, accepting, caring, humorous, tireless and perky.  And much more occasionally she would inquire why I wasn’t more like my sister, or like a friend’s child – who were good and dutiful and didn’t ask so much or as many questions, and who followed the rules.

I think it is not only all right, but it is also important to say all this.  Because in the end all  relationships are between imperfect people who are striving to do the best they can as they interact with other people. Each of us in hobbled to one degree or another by our history, our environment, our physical or emotional demons, who keep us from being the perfect people we envision and that other people hope for or assume we can become.

An example: my mother Phyllis grew up in the rectory the eldest daughter of an Episcopal priest who was a former Roman Catholic priest trained about the turn of the 20th century. She learned the ways of the church in the 1920’s & 1930’s and internalized the expectations that ordination created for her fatherWhen my first marriage ended mother took it personally asking ewhay I had done thois to her. And about the parish “What will they say?” Coming of age in the 60’s I had much less concern for the opinions of “they” even in so far as the parish was concerned.  And I know that hurt Mother because she was focused on what they might say that would reflect badly on me and perhaps also on her.

But in the end that of most importance is that this imperfect son and his imperfect mother had a close relationship even when we were not totally happy with the other. I have a heritage of faith, and faithfulness; a strong work ethic; and a love of music and hymns as just a small part of the rich legacy she gave me.

One of the things I believe we both learned is that we do not have to be perfect to love and care for one another. Nor do not have to be perfect to be loved by God or by others. We are people whose life is a journey to greater wholeness of being. By knowing I am not perfect I should have a greater ability to interact lovingly and with acceptance of others I know well enough to experience their imperfections.

Thanks Mom for all the lessons. And I suspect when we next meet we will both have some surprises to learn what we really taught one another. With love and gratitude from your imperfect son…




About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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