Today is my Mother’s 81st birthday. She was born in May 1938. Later that year, Hitler’s Germany would annex the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, followed one month later, ironically, by the release of Orson Well’s radio dramatization of War of the Worlds.
My Mother has lived through World War II, vividly remembering the German bombs dropped on the North Strand in Dublin, killing 28 people. She has lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Falklands War, the first and second Iraq wars. She has lived through the birth of rock and roll; the Swinging Sixties; the first Moon landings; the Cuban Missile Crisis; McCarthyism in the US; the Troubles in the North; the inventions of the personal computer, mobile phone, colour television and the Internet.
So much change has happened over the course of my Mother’s life so far. L.P. Hartley said that the past is a foreign country. I think you could go further and say that the past is actually a different planet. Someone transported straight from 1938 to today would have no idea how to act or how to deal with the pace and strangeness of modern life.
You might be tempted to say that nothing has stayed the same over the past 81 years. But I think you’d be wrong. When I look at my Mother and remember her over the 50 or so years that I have known her, I see a consistency. Throughout all of the change and upheaval that the World has seen, she has not fundamentally changed, at least to my eyes. Of course, like everyone she has grown and developed, but at a deep level, I think she has remained constant. Everyone who knows my Mother seems to trust her. Why is that, I wonder? I think perhaps it’s because people trust when they believe. It doesn’t require qualifications, expertise, strength or power; belief is built on consistency.
I would guess that if I asked my Mother to list her values, she possibly would have difficulty doing so. But, for me, her life thus far has been defined by a couple of simple ideas: try to listen, and if you can, try to help. It’s incredibly simple, but as someone said to me recently, the simplest things are often not the easiest. My Mother has lived by these principles for as long as I have known her. Everything else might have changed, but this has stayed the same.
Happy Birthday Mom.
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