May 10, 2020
By: Hattie Hill
As we adjust to life in the “new normal,” most of us are missing out on simple things we usually take for granted: dinner with friends and family, sports, concerts, movies. For me, one of hardest parts of social distancing has been missing out on spending Mother’s Day with my mom, sisters and their families. Every year, without fail, I’ve always made it back to Arkansas for Sunday morning church. In fact, one year, I flew from London to Dallas long enough to shower and change my clothes before hopping on another flight to Little Rock and then slipping into the pews of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church next to my sisters just in time to surprise my mom singing her heart out in the choir.
I feel so fortunate to have spent my formative years in a community where everyone lives by the notion that “it takes a village.” Growing up in Moro, Arkansas, we learned early about character, having respect and appreciation for hard work. We knew that if we did something wrong, we’d have to answer not just to our own families, but to the entire community. We also had a lot of fun. People still can’t believe it when I tell them that, in seventh or eighth grade, I learned to play croquet on a farm in the middle of nowhere.
My mother is my inspiration, my North Star. Throughout my life, I’ve looked to her example and listened to her little voice in my head telling me right from wrong, whether it was the time I knew I needed to leave a college party to instilling the confidence to know that, as a young professional, I belonged in a room of high-powered male executives.
I’ve never met anyone stronger or more resilient than my mother. A single mother living on a farm with six girls, she taught us to be self-sufficient. My mother always put education above all else and was determined that her girls would be able to provide for themselves—and all six of us did go on to earn higher-education degrees. Not only that, she practiced what she preached. My mother lost her mom as a young girl and had to drop out before graduating from high school. So, after she finished raising us, she went back to school to take care of unfinished business. I can still see her marching across the stage with pride. She even went back to take college courses for a time.
Those early lessons have been invaluable to me. Advice my mother gave me like “listen before you speak” and “everyone gets up in the morning and gets dressed just like you” have stayed with me throughout my personal and professional life. To this day, I still think of what my mother told me after an awful early experience in the working world.
I had just earned my master’s degree in psychology and, after completing an internship, I was thrilled to start my first job working with young people with disabilities. On my first day, full of vim and vigor, I walked into my boss’ office for our first meeting carrying a stack of 20 folders with information on each of the children in the program. My boss, an older white man, pushed the folders back on the table and said: “I have little respect for some educated black lady coming in here and telling me how to do my job.”
When I got home later that day, I was hysterically crying. I called my mom to tell her what had just happened. She simply said: “baby, did he hit you? Well, then you need to stop crying and get yourself together. You have two college degrees and you need to get some experience and then you can go wherever you want.” That was my mother. All business. Get the job done, no time for complaining or feeling sorry for yourself…which brings my story full circle.
Last week, I met with Bishop Jakes at the church while he recorded his Mother’s Day message. Listening to his beautiful words, I started feeling down about not being able to physically be with my mother today. But then, I snapped out of it. You see, Bishop Jakes said prayers for all the members of our congregation who have lost their mothers to COVID-19—over 300 in total. As I started listening to the heart-wrenching messages that began pouring in, I felt filled with gratitude and a little guilty about feeling sorry for myself. Unlike so many other families, I will get to have a Zoom call with my mother and the rest of my family. I won’t be able to be with her physically but I can talk to her and see her on the computer at a time when so many others can’t.
On this Mother’s Day, when so many families are grieving, I hope we can all find a little peace, whether it’s taking comfort in a happy memory or the joy of seeing our mothers’ faces on the computer screen. I know I’m grateful, today and every day.
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