March 2, 2014
My mother dressed with elegant simplicity. She seldom wore accessories or used perfume. Not tall, she always had a smile on her face and patiently listened to the conversations of others.
My mother was an elementary school teacher. Perhaps because of the nature and demands of her career, I seldom saw her lose her temper. I talked with her about many of my thoughts and concerns, and she usually gave me some suggestions, but she never gave me direct instructions: you should, you must, and you have to. By doing so, she helped me to respect others.
My mother was always very busy. Even after returning home from work, she still needed to prepare the next day's lessons and check the students’ homework. Even so, she still cooked tasty meals for our family. I especially loved her cooked pork meat dumplings, steamed stuffed bun, and Chinese noodles. I remembered that she usually cooked noodles (they are also called longevity noodles in China) for me on my birthdays. She told me that long noodle was the symbol of longevity, so that noodles are eaten on birthdays to promote longevity and the expectation of a healthy life.
Although she was very busy during those times, she still often asked me about my life and pointed out my mistakes.
One afternoon in childhood, when my friends and I played in a park, we found that my neighbour, who had a mental disability, was also there. We played tricks on him because we thought that doing so was very funny ― we provoked him, and we would then run away; then we came back and did the same thing again.
After coming back home sweaty, I told my mother about my “funny” story. Suddenly, I found that my mother’s smile had disappeared.
“Are you having fun making fun of a mentally disabled person?” She stopped her work to stare at me. “If one member of my family also had a mental disability and some people provoked that family member, how would you feel about the situation?”
I was unable to answer. I realized my mistake. My mother took me to the neighbour’s family later so that I could apologize for my behaviour.
In my elementary school, some students of my class, including myself, called one student a cripple because of his one misformed leg. One day I told my mother about our treatment of the disabled student. “Why did you call him a cripple? That is not his name?” My mother looked me in the eyes.
“Because of his disabled leg,” I replied.
“Do you know how this might have made him feel?” She paused for a moment, and then she said “Compared with him, we are very lucky because we are normal people.” Then putting her right hand over her heart, she said “I know he must have felt very painful when you called him a cripple.”
I did not dare to look at her eyes and I lowered my head in embarrassment. I never called that student a cripple ever again.
My mother treated everyone with respect, and without bias. At the end of 1970s (soon after the end of Chinese Cultural Revolution), politics was still strong in China . Some teachers in my mother’s school had kept a distance from a teacher because she had a so-called poor political background. My mother had not only conversed with her in the school, but also often invited her to our home. One day, I asked my mother why she always kept in touch with that teacher, unlike other teachers who kept a distance from her. She smiled at me and said, “Do you like her?”
“Yes, she is a good person.” I replied.
She nodded, “I don’t know politics, but I know she is a good teacher and a good person. People need to respect one another.”
I tasted my mother’s words, and gradually understood the meaning of respecting others.
After my university graduation, I moved out of home, and then moved abroad. I have subsequently made contact with various people from many different cultural backgrounds. My mother’s words and values and lessons in respect have made these contacts even more satisfying and valuable.
My mother is going to be 75 this year. Her hair is nearly white and she has become bent at the waist. And she walks much more slowly these days. But she has always had a smile on her face and patiently listened to the conversations of others.