By Robert (Bob) Bianchi, Esq.
[This post is dedicated to my mother who was a graceful spiritual guide and extraordinary woman of miracles. Ever present in my heart, her’s are the most valuable lessons I have learned in my life.]
I often present my “Joyful Journey” lecture to many community groups. One of the main concepts I discuss is our need to be “victors, and not victims” of our circumstances. This was a message I learned well from my mother.
My mom died 10 years ago, and even more today than ever, I realize how wise she was.
My mom grew up very, very poor. And, when I say poor, it is not by today’s standards of “poor.” There were no food stamps, housing subsidies, entitlement programs. Poor meant that you lived in a building (if you were lucky) that had no running hot water. It had no heat in the winter, with the exception of the kitchen oven. The food was scarce and they were every day just a moment away from being on the street, hungry and homeless. She grew up in a housing project where tough times were the norm.
Growing up poor for my mom meant having an immigrant father who worked multiple jobs just to put food on the table- – literally. And, when there was no money for food, it meant eating her pet rabbit on a cold winter’s night. Of course, they tried to tell her the rabbit died and that she was eating something else. She knew better, and later her parents shamefully confessed. But for them, there was no other option at the time. When you are that poor, eating a pet you loved was a necessity.
As a child, there were many years with no Christmas presents. One year was a good one for her, however. She actually received a pair of gloves. She would continue to open, close, and reopen the box with the gloves in them as she was so grateful for that one simple present. She told how she wanted to make believe she was opening them for the first time, over and over again.
But with all of that, if you knew her later in life (and as her son), you would never know my mother grew up in such poverty. She never lamented her suffering in life, she only used it to make herself “better.”
My mom was hit by a drunk driver while she was walking down the shore when she was a teenager. She was given her Last Rites and pronounced dead. She lived, however, after having an “out of body experience” where she spoke to Mother Mary. She awoke, physically broken and emotionally damaged. She never really spoke of at length about her encounter with Mother Mary, as at that time she thought people would think she was “crazy.” But all that knew the story realized that it was a defining moment in her life. She always had a sense of calm that she was being lovingly cared for from above.
My mom struggled with the physical and emotional scars of that accident her entire life. She had to learn to walk again, had broken many bones that afflicted her for her entire life. She was always self-conscious about a very large scar on her face that took many hours to cover up with makeup each day.
Her pelvis was broken in 2 places and she was told she could never conceive children. Well, she had both me and my sister, unexplainable to every doctor that saw her x-rays – – even the doctors that examined her when she got cancer 10 years ago. No doctor could medically comprehend how she could have had children. But to me, I understand very well. It was what we call a miracle.
My mom became a “nervous person” after that accident. And when I was younger, I viewed her as somewhat timid, afraid, and unsure of herself. By today’s terms, she was clearly suffering from post-traumatic syndrome but was never treated for it. As I grew up and learned of her struggles and how she overcame them, I came to see my mother as the most courageous person I ever met. Despite her fears, she never let them stop her from confronting them and living a full life.
My mom was the person I went to when I was alone, afraid, unsure, and/or needed someone to talk to about my feelings. In those times, her advice came from a woman who knew suffering all too well. So, she was able to discuss suffering from the “heart” and in a language of compassion and wisdom that came from her life confronting pain and want. I was a lucky son to have her wisdom and love in my life for sure.
She taught me about “moderation,” and “balance” in life- – about “letting go” of regrets and fears, and living in the “present moment” well before these concepts became popular. She knew these basic spiritual concepts from a life of suffering, not from a book. She taught me to learn from my mistakes, but never to think that “I was” my mistakes. She taught me to do my best not to fear the future and know that only in the present moment can we do our best to make the future bright. She taught me to be assured that trauma, suffering, and tragic things would come to us all, regardless of our futile attempts to control outcomes. She taught me to face those tough times head-on and not run away from them or blame them on someone else- – a folly very popular in today’s culture.
She taught me that there was a great spiritual awakening in the face of suffering, and not to turn my face from that suffering but to lean into it and learn the lesson God was trying to teach me.
My mom taught me that there is no “courage in the absence of fear.” This is why I know my mom to be the most courageous person I ever met. She dealt with abject poverty, the scars of being so battered by being hit by that drunk driver, and how to live and die with dignity, despite those obstacles. My mom taught me that when you are afraid, ask Mother Mary for strength and say lots of Hail Marys to take your mind off the negative, the ruminating fears, the regrets, the desire to give up.
She taught me that we always have control over our minds and attitudes and we can choose to be negative or positive- – to overcome and be grateful- – even if it was hard to find something to be grateful for. She taught me one of the greatest lessons of the bible “to be still” and know that the providence of God would get me through it all. She only knew this lesson all too well herself.
My mom taught me to never be a “victim, but to be a victor.” She taught me to accept my faults and improve. She taught me to not blame anyone for my troubles, even if they were the cause of them. It was not “falling” that for her was the major problem, but “not getting back up” that was the true enemy.
Most importantly, she taught me to always ask myself each day what I wanted to say about my life when I looked back at the end of my life. She taught me that with each decision to reflect if that was helping me achieve that goal of a life well-lived in the service of others.
My mom taught me to be compassionate of the less fortunate and always be grateful for what I had, regardless if it was a little or much. She taught me that the less fortunate were really us all, only that circumstances of chance separated us. She taught me to use my God-given graces to help those that were in need.
I thank God for the blessing of my mother, who in the physical world was not even supposed to have children. She, despite all that she endured in her life of suffering, never lost perspective that the life given to us was a grace- – an unmerited and unearned gift from God. In fact, her suffering made her appreciate life even more.
My mom grew up poor by economic standards for sure. But, she was the richest person I have ever met in all other ways.
Thanks mom for giving to me the lessons that have meant the most to my life!
I love you, Mom!
[I have attached 2 photos of my mom. One as a child looking lasciviously at someone with ice cream. She could not afford to have one herself. The other picture was her in our kitchen when I was a kid. Wasn’t she so beautiful!!!]