My mother's good friend Mary was ballast for my spirits from the time my awareness dawned as a toddler. Her full, bright skirts and flair for decorating lent a sense of fair-weather cheer to her surroundings. In her slow Kentucky drawl, she'd convey humor and a sense of down-home groundedness to those around her.
When I had one of my asthma attacks as a small child, Mary's calm presence helped me relax enough to breathe better.
Later, when I stopped going to classes at U.C. Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, Mary soothed my parents who were worried about my unorthodox behavior, putting it in context with a normal need to experiment and try out an identity different from what I'd known as I grew up.
When I began visiting foreign countries, she talked to my parents about her own adventures to faraway places when she was young, again normalizing and reassuring them.
From what she told me in later life, Mary never felt more than "ordinary." Since she was comfortable within herself, those of us around her felt relaxed and welcomed. Southern hospitality was in her genes.
She conveyed it in her genuine interest in friends, family or even strangers, her comfort cooking, and her easy laughter. She looked for the good in others, and we met her expectations.
For the last years of her life, Mary lived with her daughter Gail and Gail's husband, Mike. In their care, she lived to be almost 100 years old.
Even on her death bed, in obvious discomfort and diminishing outward attention, she lifted her head and tapped her foot when Gail and I sang some old songs to her, responsive, with all her strength, to the love around her.
I wrote the following poem a few days before Mary's death:
Don't get lost looking to the future.
Join the Right Now Club.
Find the perfect scarf to set off your outfit.
And don't forget to stand up straight.
Put on mascara.
Enjoy color, cock your hat.
Live with a flair.
It's silly to trumpet pain or despair.
Don't go there.
Keep your head up.
Look for the humor.
Plant your foot solid.
Do your share.
Ignore adversity as much as you can.
Live for love.
Mary inspired appreciation and respect with her simple recipe for how to get along in life. I know there are many others like her, who quietly bring peace and comfort simply by their presence. I aspire to be like her.
She will always be my mentor, a voice I carry inside that assures me I am good and worth loving. When I am in touch with this in myself, I can be open to seeing what is positive in others.
I continue in her tradition of making peace as I remember, celebrate, and carry on what I absorbed from her.
Susan Scorso lives in Phoenix and works part time as a family-child therapist in Medford and Grants Pass. She is publishing a book, "Journeys Of Transformation," based on her own explorations and on interviews she's done with friends who are on diverse spiritual paths.
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