Whenever I acted disrespectfully, my parents would remind me that they wouldn't be around forever. This must sound morbid, but they didn't bring it up in that way. They weren't threatening, they weren't whining, they weren't trying to guilt me into "behaving". As I grew older, I understood more and more about what they were doing -- they were coaching me. By prompting me to reflect, they were helping me clear a path toward an adult life with less regret.
This part of my childhood is probably one of the reasons the hospital scene in Terms of Endearment caused me to bawl my heart out. In this scene, the main character is in the hospital, dying of cancer. She is with her two boys, saying her goodbyes. Her oldest son Tommy is being very distant. She says to him:
I know you like me. I know it. For the last year or two, you've been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven't been around to be on your tail about something or irritating you, you could...remember that time that I bought you the baseball glove when you thought we were too broke. You know? Or when I read you those stories? Or when I let you goof off instead of mowing the lawn? Lots of things like that. And you're gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you're gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don't - I know that you love me. So don't ever do that to yourself, all right?What sort of grace enables you to look beyond your own hurt and offer such a gift? I can only hope it's the sort of grace that I can pick up piece by piece as I grow and learn.
Even as a teenager, I didn't roll my eyes whenever my parents' reminder made its way into our conversation. I could hear the personal experience in their voice, I could sense the regret they were sheltering me from.
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