The day after Nelson Mandela’s death the media was blooming with quotes attributed to him:
A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
Great words from a great man, no doubt, and even I have some of his words written down in my little notebooks where I collect quotes that I like. On the day of Mandela’s death however, Imad and I also watched Stephen Colbert do a short tribute on his show to his mother who had passed away last summer. In his speech, Colbert mentioned how Lorna Colbert, a theatrically trained actress and mother of eleven children, would fake faint on the kitchen floor in order to teach the kids how to do a proper stage fall. What really touched me was that of all things her son could have spoken about, he chose to mention her making him laugh by falling on the kitchen floor. A simple memory of a simple moment.
After my mum died, for years I mourned not only that she wasn’t here, but that I didn’t have any of the things she had said written down: The mind wipes away a lot of things, making room for new experiences and information, and things that you think you will remember forever, you remember just as “she said something important, wearing a purple robe and eating a croissant, we were laughing, that song was playing in the radio… but what the heck did she say?”. One favorite moment of mine, I actually remember my mum joking that I might forget our discussion, to which I answered “of course not”, and then nothing. Blank. I have no idea what we talked about, but I know it was important! My mum taught me how to make things, the importance of books, honesty, creativity, and everything I know, and yet the things I can quote from her are simple and small, even silly, despite the beauty of the things she said when she was alive. The best memories I have are totally non-verbal, much like Lorna Tuck Colbert’s stage falls in the kitchen.
There is one quote from my mum that I do remember, and that I actually have written on the wall here in front of me as I write. It is not fancy, and it is not complicated. In fact, it is probably the simplest quote in the world. When everything seemed to go to a horse’s rear end, this was the one little phrase my mum and I would say a lot during her last years: “It will be good”.
We were assembling a flat pack dresser and half the pieces were missing – it will be good! Taking out the garbage, and the bag breaks – it will be good! Even when she was in the hospital for the last days – it will be good. To be honest, there were years when I wasn’t sure if that was the case. Will everything be good? Life is suffering and all that, as the great philosophers like to say, and yet it will be okay? These simple words that were a mantra for bad times are the words I remember most vividly, and in a way, the words I treasure the most. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how much life might suck at times, in the end it will always be good. Things might not be exactly as you have always dreamt, but they will be just good enough to carry you through. So although Nietzsche and co might turn in their graves, for me this little quote has become much more meaningful than it sounds. Don’t sweat too much over the small things, it will be good. Sure, there will be an end to things, but so what, that too will be good.
Many times I have wanted to remember things that my mum said that were more beautiful, more substantial in words, but I can’t. Stephen Colbert’s mum would fake faint theatrically, mine would suddenly say “let’s dance” and waltz with me in the kitchen. It is often the simplest things we will end up remembering about our parents and grandparents. There are no great quotes to read. No books to go for advice when we would need it. Despite years and years of discussions, the actual verbal memories are reduced to their smallest, simplest form. I guess this is my encouragement for everyone to write down words of wisdom as you hear them. I know it might not seem important now, but someday, it just might be. I am not sure what inspired me to write about this today, but I feel that with the holidays approaching, this time will be an opportunity for many to spend time with parents and grandparents, and so taking a notebook and asking them for their thoughts might be something worth doing this year.
But, as my mum would say, if you don’t write it down, it’s okay too. Life goes on and it’s all good.