The lessons our mothers and grandmothers taught us

Published 7:10 pm Saturday, January 7, 2017

Where I grew up way out in the country, verses from the Bible were memorized during a summer tradition, Vacation Bible School, at hundreds of rural churches on the hottest days of June and July. Thousands of grandmothers recited everything from “Exodus” to “Ecclesiastes” to the babies they were rocking and the little ones tugging at their apron strings.

The phrase, “Blessed are the peacemakers:  for they shall be called the children of God,” then, is nothing new to me. The phrase from the poet Dante written in The Divine Comedy is, however, something fresh for me to consider: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

My Chris, who doesn’t do much with social media, woke up in 2017 ready to update his Facebook status with not one, but both, of these seemingly contradictory ideas presented in tandem. The one would have made his Mamaw Sarah who I have only met in stories exceedingly happy since he remembers when he woke up in her house on Sunday morning, it wasn’t a matter of whether he was going to church, but simply a matter of when. The other would have pleased his sweet Mama just as much since she loved literature and was by any measure a spit-fire, meant as a sincere compliment, committed to the most worthy causes she could find.

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I have given thought these past few days to where I stand on my spouse’s New Year’s challenge. Clearly he is suggesting that neither of these somewhat opposing views is sufficient by itself. I know him to be a peace-loving person who chooses his causes thoughtfully and his battles cautiously. In fact, for him, battles can usually be avoided by looking hard enough for shared values and common good.

I have seen him risk himself and fail to consider his own needs a few times during these 15 years I have known him, however, and I can find one common denominator in all of those moments:  he had tried peace, it had failed, and he judged the rights of the few to be just as important as the rights of the many. In those moments, I watched him forsake his neutrality, and I was proud, scared sometimes, but always proud.

It seems the lesson to learn from the juxtaposition of these phrases might best be summed up in The Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” For my Chris, courage comes easily. Wisdom comes in time, and he often struggles with serenity.

His Mamaw Sarah, Mama Peggy, and others forged him well, though, so I always know he will figure it out, as the rest of us will figure out his 2017 challenge:  how can we make peace while still standing strong on the courage of our convictions?

There must be a way.
David Creel is a Mississippi native and a syndicated columnist. You may reach him at