In the weeks since my mother's death, friends have marveled that I am smiling and active, not dwelling in grief but, as the hymn from which I quoted on my mother's memorial program says, "how can I keep from singing?"
Singing...because my mother's life was such a blessing to her children and to others. Thanks to my mother's courage, the neighborhood our family lived in in Nashville during the civil rights era is now integrated. Thanks to my mother and millions of others who said NO to apartheid with their pocketbooks and picket lines, South Africa is free from that scourge and hosting the World Cup today. Thanks to my mother's fearless defense of her faith, other Quakers who apply for passports now have the option to affirm rather than swear to tell the truth. Quakers refuse to swear because they take Jesus' injunction against oath-taking in Mt 5:34 literally and believe one should tell the truth at all times, not just under oath.
Singing...because my mother was able to live out her final years as she wished with minimal medical intervention, because she was able to die as she wished -- peacefully, with no extraordinary measures, and in the company of her daughters, and because she is being laid to rest as she wished -- and as she lived -- simply and quietly.
Singing...because I can write these words when so many in our world cannot read or write, because my mother cared enough to read to me when I was a toddler, take me to the library as soon as I was old enough to read for myself, spend hours answering my endless questions, and push and prod me to stay in school and go to university. She cared enough to read and comment on my writing, to instill the importance of good spelling and grammar and careful proofreading. Because of her, I can assist others by teaching ESL or helping friends fill out employment and immigration forms.
Singing...because my mother transcended the cultural and culinary limitations of her rural Southern upbringing, learning how to use spices other than salt and pepper, and passing that knowledge on to me. Dinners in our home were a veritable United Nations for the palate -- French, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern...you never knew what would land on the table. And she taught us the spiritual and nutritional value of sharing a home-cooked meal.
Singing...because I woke up on this brutally hot day in a comfortable home to the hum of central air conditioning when so many in the world lack shelter or, like some of my friends, struggle along without AC for economic reasons. I can do this because my mother helped me buy this house and the education helped me get the job that pays for the AC. I think of my mother growing up in my grandmother's house with only ceiling fans and copious quantities of iced tea and lemonade to fend off the northern Louisiana summer heat. We take so much for granted.
My mother left her children and the world in a better place to go to an even better place and, "since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?"