People change as they grow older. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Sometimes life hardens you. It can beat you down and shape you into something rigid and cold and unrecognizable from your youth if you allow it. Sometimes there are those that blossom as they grow, using life’s challenges and experiences to grow and mold them into something better and even more beautiful than before. I imagine most fall in between those two categories. Probably a bit scarred from holding on to some painful hurt from the past, yet transformed into something better from other wounds.
“Ma” was something else entirely. An anomaly perhaps. One of those rare beauties that was so well rooted that every life experience, good or bad, resulted in yet another magnificent branch stretching even higher to the heavens. Showered with leaves and petals and not the least sign of distress or decay.
When you are who you are from your first breath to your last, I guess there’s little reason for change… assuming of course that who you are is someone beautiful to the very core.
Never boastful. Never a cross word. Never a curse. Never in my presence anyway. In her words… never let anything pass from your mouth that you wouldn’t put in it. I love it.
So as the pastor laid his hand on Ma’s forehead and prayed fervently over her, children and grandchildren by her side, he used one word in particular that captured my attention.
He had been far away in Texas pastoring another church for a number of years, yet one Sunday morning after his return to that small town in rural Illinois, he recognized Ma sitting upright in a pew seated with her lovely great-granddaughter. There’s no mistaking Ma. He described her as “regal”. And she was just that. Always beautifully dressed. Perfectly pressed. Not a single hair out of place. Stately. Dignified. Proper.
Truly, she was our queen. Approachable royalty though. The matriarch. Our foundation.
Her kingdom was her majestic farmland, stretched over hundreds of acres, which she continued to oversee from a hospital bed at the age of 92. Just a week or so before her passing she had purchased another herd bull and 2 heifers from that very same bed. She was determined to maintain the empire she and “Pa” had first begun. She was President and CEO and despite never graduating high school was as brilliant and shrewd as any Fortune 500 executive could ever hope to be.
We were all her royal subjects, and willingly so. She would ask, politely so, yet in a way which commanded action, and it was done. There was little argument, because we all knew that protesting was futile. In the end it would be done as she had requested. Why prolong the inevitable?
She was a lady, in the most proper sense of the word. And as I stood for four hours straight in the funeral receiving line while an endless parade of family, friends and guests offered condolences, that’s the word that person after person used to describe her. “She was a true lady.” “They just don’t make them like that anymore.”
How true. How sad.
Forgive me this detour… but somehow along the way our culture has discarded the term “lady”, deeming it “old fashioned”. It’s practically a negative now, as if you’re somehow inferior to a man if you act like a lady. In the name of “progress”, women were encouraged to shed this “label” as if it held women in bondage.
Ma was a woman, secure in her roll as co-pilot, trusting Pa at the helm. Because Pa was head of the household, does that somehow negate her authority, or deem her inferior? Does having a different roll somehow imply that one is better than the other? Is one roll more essential than the other? Ma was every bit the equal to Pa. The yin to his yang, and every bit as powerful. Yes she would defer to his judgment, as he was head of the household, but the only reason a man is even allowed to rule as the head of house is because a woman trusts him enough to do so. The only man truly capable of ruling as head of a household is the one who puts himself last. The only people that reject that as misogynistic are the people that truly don’t understand. Ma and Pa understood. They were a well-oiled machine; a beautiful force to be both admired and imitated.
I spent this past weekend alone at the farm, at Ma and Pa’s, searching for answers, perhaps some closure, maybe some meaning. With the TV now shut off at the house, and no internet or cellular data, I was truly alone. Cut off from my many media companions. So quiet. So peaceful. I did break that silence once, asking Ma out loud what we should do now, as if I would somehow get an answer from the house. A bit later, when I did hear her voice… in the form of her answering machine picking up an incoming call… I was ill prepared. It was confusing and wonderful and heartbreaking and… I was overcome with emotion. I just sat there and cried. She’s worth every tear.
I had brought along a book I was finishing, along with a new one by Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor of The Journey church in St. Louis. And of course my bible. Darrin’s book, “The Dude’s Guide to Manhood”, couldn’t have been a more fitting read for the weekend, especially in light of Father’s Day on Sunday. I hadn’t thought much about the book when I threw it in my bag, other than it was new, and next in my rotation. But guided by that book, I found many answers that weekend. And many more challenges. Tons of applicable truths as to what it takes to be a real man. So there I sat, in what for me was the home of the last great “Lady” and “Gentleman” on my planet, reading and studying what it takes to be a real man, and pondering what it would take to pick up their torch and carry on that legacy. What would it take to be a real man, and not this cheap imitation that the men of today have seemingly embraced as their ideal?
Ma was what all women should aspire to be. Beautiful inside and out. Trusted. Revered. Loved. Truly blessed, and a blessing to all. A lady to her last breath. I can think of no higher compliment to a woman than to deem her a true “lady”.
This inspires me, as it should all men, to strive to be a man worthy of partnering with such a rare and priceless creature, to create a beautiful, unstoppable force of my own. The world desperately needs more ladies and gentlemen like Ma and Pa. Sure I miss Ma, a lot, but even now she continues to teach and lead me from beyond, as only an unstoppable force can.