Many mornings growing up, when I’d drag myself out of bed and make my way to the living room, I’d find my mom sitting quietly in “her” chair. Sometimes she’d be reading; more often, just staring off into space with an open book in her lap. My mother liked TV fine — she told me many times that life was more boring before television came along — but she read daily.
Mom had been in school to become an English teacher before quitting to marry my dad as he headed off to war. She had her own library at home, mostly English novels, separate from my dad’s books (biographies, history and science) and the family reference library (mostly The New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, on which my aunt Lorene was an editor, and the Time-Life science and nature book series).
I don’t have many fond feelings for my mom. She tried, but didn’t seem to know how to show (or perhaps feel) love. And while I’m grateful now for her constant corrections of grammar and behavior, I bristled at them then. I wanted her and my professor dad to stop teaching me and just be with me, at least some of the time. But that image of her sitting silently, contemplating what she’d just been reading, or the day ahead, or perhaps nothing at all, relishing the silence, felt powerfully good, even to my busy 10-year-old mind. And it stayed with me.
It is the greatest thing mom taught me.
I was a night owl, like my dad, but mom kept farmer’s hours; she rose at 5 a.m. without an alarm and was in bed by 9. Those hours in the morning between 5 and 8 with a book and a mug of Sanka were hers, and she treasured them. As my spiritual journey has taken me deeply into contemplative work, I realize this was her practice: 3 hours of solitude and silence — a mix of reading and sitting — every single day. For decades.
My upbringing may have left me sadly unprepared for life in many important ways, but I always knew that, as they say, reading is fundamental. I knew there was no better escape than immersing oneself in a novel. And that if you wanted an answer to something, you could look it up. I learned these things not by being told, but by mom’s example.