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A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 289.
As a child, nothing sounded more beautiful to me than my mother’s voice. She truly had a kindly tongue.
A classically-trained soprano, when she sang, my heart rejoiced. She had a lovely speaking voice, too, full and expressive. Both as a mother and a school teacher, she always spoke with kindness, eager to encourage and inspire. Whether talking to her class of second graders or enjoying time at home with me and my sister, she always chose gentle, reassuring words, knowing their power to spark a child’s joy or ease her pain. Her loving voice is the sweet refrain of my life.
Mom died nine years ago, at the age of 72, from a sudden illness. As I grieved, my greatest desire was to hear her voice one more time; to hear her talk about her abrupt departure from this life. Had it surprised her? I longed to hear about her newfound joy in her celestial surroundings, and to hear her say—though, of course, I knew—how much she adored my sister and me, and would always be with us. Although we had talked about many of these things during her life, and I knew how she might answer, my broken heart needed to feel her presence in a tangible, visceral way.
Then I found her voice, the sound I longed to hear, in a tape of Irish folk songs she had recorded several years before. I listened to it again and again, relishing her warm and playful performance. And I found her face, the sight I longed to see, in an old driver’s license that my sister discovered among Mom’s things after the funeral. Rarely photographed as an adult, Mom shone with radiant joy and gentle humor in this photo. My sister seized upon this find, enlarged and framed the photo, and rushed the gift into my hands. When I opened the package, Mom returned to me in all her familiar sweetness, like a warm breath upon my face, reassuring me that everything would be OK. It is, dear sister, the best gift I’ve ever received.
As the years passed, I slowly learned to let Mom go. The more freely I have relinquished her physical presence, the more profoundly she has returned to me in every part of my life. When I talk to both friend and stranger, I sometimes hear her voice emerge inside me. There’s a similarity in our tone, but more importantly, I feel the resonance of her heart within me, helping me to be the kind of person I want to be. Mom had a way of making people feel respected; when she talked to anyone, adult or child, no one else existed in her world. More and more, when I interact with others, I find myself intent on their well-being. I want them to know how much I treasure the kindness that we share.
Mom’s love wove the fabric of my heart, every stitch a luminous memory. One day, as we were driving in the country, she sang Ave Maria to me over and over again—laughing with each repetition—because it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard and I cried “again, please, again!” On another memorable day, she gave me My Friend Flicka, her favorite children’s novel, because she knew I was often lonely and wanted me to know the companionship of books.
She nurtured our love for nature and animals, helping us protect every small creature—each injured bird, chipmunk, or turtle—that crossed our doorstep and wean it back to health.
She wove the magic of music into our days; instilled it as the companion of my heart. It helps me appreciate the lyrical quality of life: words and melodies that move the soul; lights and shadows that dance in our eyes; feelings and desires that we all share, no matter what we look like or where we come from.
Most of all, Mom encouraged my sister and me to look for the beauty inside every heart. As a Baha’i, she believed that God made humanity to live in love and unity. She said that we all come from the same earth and grow toward the same sun, and that we are destined to live as one family, as the fruits of one tree. She taught us that people must learn to look into each other’s eyes and see this basic unity, across every border and barrier, until every child can grow up free of fear, alive in a world of love.
Mom’s voice still lives in my heart, singing a song that never ends:
The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14.