When I was a child, there was nothing more beautiful to me than my mother’s voice. She was a classically-trained soprano, and when she sang, my heart rejoiced. She had a lovely speaking voice too, full and expressive. Both as a mother and as a school teacher, she spoke with kindness, always eager to encourage and inspire. Whether talking to her class of second graders or at home with me and my sister, her words were gentle and reassuring. They have accompanied me through my life, prompting joy and easing sorrow.
A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding. (Baha’u’llah)
Mom died nine years ago, at the age of 72, from a sudden illness. As I grieved, my greatest desire was to hear her voice one more time; to hear her talk about her abrupt departure from this life (had it surprised her?) and about her newfound joy in her celestial surroundings, and to hear her say – though, of course, I knew – how much she adored my sister and me and would always be with us. Although we had talked about many of these things during her life, and I knew how she might answer, my broken heart needed to feel her presence in a tangible, visceral way.
I found her voice — the sound I longed to hear — in a cassette of Irish folk songs she had recorded several years before, and I listened to it again and again, relishing her warm and playful performance. And I found her face — the sight I longed to see — in an old driver’s license that my sister discovered among Mom’s things after the funeral. Mom was rarely photographed as an adult, and this photo — taken in late middle age — captured her radiant essence and gentle humor. My sister seized upon this find, enlarged and framed the photo — which I had never seen — and rushed the gift into my hands. When I opened the package, Mom returned to me in all her familiar sweetness, like a warm breath upon my face, reassuring me that everything would be OK. It is, dear sister, the best gift I’ve ever received.
As the years passed, I slowly learned to let Mom go. And the more freely I have relinquished her physical presence, the more profoundly she has returned to me in every part of my life. When I talk to both friend and stranger, I sometimes hear her voice emerge from inside me. There’s a similarity in our tone, but more importantly, I feel the resonance of her heart within me, helping me to be the kind of person I want to be. Mom had a way of making people feel respected; when she talked to anyone — adult or child — there was no one else in her world. More and more, when I interact with others, I find myself intent on their well-being. I want them to know that the simple kindness between us — the recognition of our shared humanity — is a gift that I treasure.
My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. (Baha’u’llah)
My mom’s love wove the fabric of my heart, every stitch a luminous memory. Like the day we were driving in the country and she sang Ave Maria to me over and over again — laughing with each repetition — because it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard and I cried “again, please, again!” And the day she gave me My Friend Flicka –her favorite children’s novel — because she knew I was often lonely and wanted me to know the companionship of books. And the way she loved animals and nature and helped us to protect every small creature — every injured bird, chipmunk, or turtle — that crossed our doorstep and wean it back to health.
Through Mom’s influence, music has long been my daily companion and helps me to appreciate the lyrical quality of life: words and melodies that move the heart; lights and shadows that dance in our eyes; feelings and desires that we all share — no matter what we look like or where we come from.
Mom taught my sister and me to look for the beauty in every soul. As a Baha’i, she believed that God made humanity to live in love and unity. She said that we all come from the same earth and grow toward the same sun, and that we are destined to live as one family — the fruits of one tree. She taught us that people must learn to look into each other’s eyes and see this basic unity — across every border and barrier — until every child can grow up free of fear, alive in a world of love.
This is Mom’s voice in my heart — a song that never ends.
The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. (Baha’u’llah)