Advice about Advice, Part 3 of 3

Subtitle: From a son to his mother…

The Worst Advice I Ever Have Received: “Always expect the worst to happen and you will be prepared to face it when it comes.”

This was my mother’s abiding counsel. Reflecting on what I know of her life, she endured no small measure of struggle. Oft I recall her reciting the opening lines of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor –

Bare.[1]

However, as Hughes’ poetic “mother”, despite the toil encountered on life’s metaphorical staircase, encouraged her “son” to keep “a-climbin’ on, and reachin’ landin’s, and turnin’ corners”, my mother’s loving necessity that her children avoid all harm limited her vision to behold mostly the difficulties: “Always expect the worst to happen…”

Taking her counsel to heart, early on, I adopted a relatively pessimistic view of life. Notwithstanding my staunch Christian tutelage, hope was illusory. Defeat, an ever-looming shadow. Despair, a constant partner.

It wasn’t until I encountered and engaged some of the deepest difficulties and darkest days of my life that I, through the agency of a spiritual awakening and psychological therapy, became able and willing (at least, as old habits die hard, most of the time!) to doff my mantle of negativity.

As my mother aged, she was afflicted with dementia. And then she died. Thus, I never had the opportunity to tell her what I’ve learned:

  1. To live always expecting the worst demands immense emotional and physical energy.
  2. The worst often doesn’t happen.
  3. Yet having expended so much preparatory vigor always left me exhausted; unable to appreciate the-most-of-the-time-less-than-the-worst that happened or to enjoy the-best-of-the-best when it occurred.

So, Mama, I tell you this now and, always, the most important thing. I know you loved me. Always. And I know you did your best. Always. And I love you. Always. And I thank you. Always.

© 2021 PRA

#theworstadvice #alwaysexpecttheworsttohappen #theworstoftendoesnothappen #langstonhughespoetlaureateofharlem


[1] From the poem Mother to Son (1922), James Mercer Langston Hughes (1901-1967)

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