Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Whatever makes you happy, Dear.
- Madge Scott Angell McHugh, my mother,
who died on this day, 1999, age 78
There is an ancient Buddhist (I think) saying which says that the best way to serve God is to be happy. (Let’s not quarrel about the definition of “happy”; I don’t mean anything vapid, but rather profound.)
I arrived at my parents’ home in Toronto in August of 1967, off of my first plane trip on a four-prop Constellation from Winnipeg, having spent the summer after my graduation from university as a student minister “looking after” six little congregations of the United Church of Canada. Age 20. But that’s another story.
I announced that I was going to be leaving for the United States to become a monk. My father, a hard-working, self-taught man, was not able to understand why I would have gone to university only to do something that would make me no money. All my mother said was, “Whatever makes you happy Dear”.
My mother said that many times to me in my life. I don’t know if she said it to my brother, but I suspect so. My mother said it to me when I went to become a monk. She said it when I left the Order. She said it when I told her I was going to Ohio to be a parish priest. And several times after when I announced yet another jog in the Journey. I regret she never met Dennis.
Strangely, I can’t really say that I knew my mother very well. My brother would have known her better. I left home, certainly emotionally, at age 16 really, and spent only a few days if that a year with my family. In a strange way, my mother was both my birth mother and my mythical mother. In that “mythic” role, she became my Muse. I have the sense that she would have liked me, as her son, to be nearer. But she never made any of the motherly demands on me to which she was, I think, “entitled”. My mother set me free to live my own Life. I never spoke to her about it, so I have no real idea if this was something conscious on her part. I rather think it – or perhaps I delight in thinking – that it was instinctual on her part. I was and have always been a fiercely independent person. My mother seems to have known and respected that. And she seems to have known that I would be more surely her son if she abetted my “different drummer” march through Life.
She is a symbol for me of God as I understand God. The God I “know” never , never, never coerces or manipulates in any way. I would instantly shun such a “God”. Perhaps my Mother helped open my heart to find a God I could respect and love, surrender to, and trust.
So on this 9th anniversary of her journeying on, I thank her here, as I have thanked her many times in the many many quiet moments I have envisioned her lovely smile and remember her words. "Whatever makes you happy Dear.”