People have always said, “Awww, you’re so sweet.” Or ” That’s so sweet of you.” Or “What a sweet thing to do/say”. I never paid it much attention. It was just one of those nice things we say to each other,, a social convention. We don’t really mean it. It’s just something to say, something to fill the gap in conversation.
Someone, (maybe Oprah, but please don’t quote me on that) once said “Believe what people tell you about themselves.” I guess the converse can also, sometimes, be true. Sometimes, there’s a small kernel of truth in people’s observations about us. Soooooo….. I should have believed what people had been saying about me all along. But I had no reason to. Social conventions are just that…..rules, methods, practices established by usage or custom, niceties in other words.
For years I blamed my ‘sweetness” on my mother, Alma Hart Mason. God rest her soul. She would have been 90 this coming March 11th., but she didn’t want to stay here once the love of her life–my father, Hudson Mason, God rest his soul too– left this world. After 63 years of marriage, she just didn’t want to be alone.
She was truly the sweetest person I have ever known. And I’m not just being nice. She was always polite, kind, considerate, compassionate, loving, helpful and humble. The greatest blessing of my life was to have been raised by such an angel. Everyone who met her instantly loved her and would tell me, once we were out of earshot, “Your mother is sooooo sweeet!”
I tried to be like her, to talk like her, to be helpful like her, compassionate like her. In many ways, I think I succeeded, almost too well. She never told me that she or anyone else in our family had diabetes. And now that she’s gone, I can’t confirm whether she did or not. I will never know. That’s why, when the paramedics rushed me to Our Lady Of Mercy Hospital in the Bronx, and the doctors explained that my glucose level was 1300 and I should be either in a coma or dead, I said ‘That’s impossible Nobody in my family has diabetes!!” I was seriously in denial.
During the two weeks it took the doctors to figure out which cocktail of medicines would bring my glucose level down to a more workable number, I had plenty of time to ponder how I had arrived at that point in my life. The downtime was very illuminating.
I discovered that, like my mother, I had a very naive side. I always saw the silver lining in the clouds. I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, whether they deserved it or not. I believed in people’s inherent goodness. I looked past people’s faults and saw their needs, their weaknesses and instantly forgave them for the foibles they seemed helpless to do anything about. I glossed over things in an effort to be….nice, not to hurt anyone’s feelings, although they routinely hurt mine.
She and I both paid a heavy price for that “sweetness”. It’s not only heredity, diet, obesity and ethnicity that are contributing factors to diabetes. So is stress. As sweet as my mother was, there was always a sort of sadness behind her smile; just a hint of melancholy beneath the laughter. And I realized much later in life, as an adult, that she carried the burden of a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Growing up in the deep South in the early 20th century when it was unpopular to be black; being gifted as a concert pianist but having to bury the gift to work in the cotton fields; losing a child in a horrible car accident and many other indignities she never even shared with me, but carried silently, stoically..
I spent several nights in my wheelchair in the chapel of the hospital, asking the invariable question people diagnosed with a life-changing illness often ask; why?. After the fourth or fifth night, the answer came in an unexepected way. ”Rise above it…..”
”Rise….above….it” Get up, after falling or being thrown down; become active in opposition or resistance to….it…this disease that holds more than 26 million Americans in its grip and another 7 million who are not even aware they have the disease.. And by the grace of God, just like my mother, I got up. And I get up every day in response to that call.
It was a gift; a call to arms; a call to do what my mother had done every day of her life: Face the realities of life, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the sunshine and the rain, the bitter and the sweet, with poise and grace and strength and love and do my part to make the world a better place for having lived…….