We learn many things from our parents. Some of these things we grasp at the time of the teachable moment and others don't reveal themselves until we're further down the road of life.

Some of the lessons are good, others are bad. But we must take their life lesson in total, not in a fraction of our choosing. It is their life’s work, and it is a gift you must do something with as that person’s child. You have to; their gift is something between an obligation and a force of nature in your life.

For my mother, I can honestly say that the title of her life lesson to me is strength.

She battled cancer for twenty-seven years. Twenty-seven years. That is more than half of my current forty-two years of life that she gave me. So for more than half of my life, my mother was fighting against an obstacle in her life. A mean, nasty, unwelcome obstacle that arrived one day in her life and simply said, “Deal with this.”

And for twenty-seven years, she did, all while still being a wife to my dad and a mother to my sister and me.

"Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots." - Victor Hugo

Sure there were down times, rough spots, and the like. But I never once remember her complaining about her cancer. Not once. I am sure she was frustrated in life about how things did not turn out according to her plan. It happens to all of us. But I did not see her quit and spit the proverbial “bit” or upturn her world’s board game like a child because she was losing or not where she wanted to be. Never. She never quit on my dad, my sister, me, or herself. She kept living life. She grew a spine of the strongest steel that quietly said “not quitting” each day of those twenty-seven years.

I don’t think my mother ever read Ryan Holiday's book “The Obstacle is the Way”, but I think she certainly lived her life like it:

“It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.”- Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage

But while my mother has been gone for over a year, she left something behind for me: her strength. She gave me that battle-tested steel spine of hers on her last day.

That steel spine is deep inside me now, welded to my soul at the core.

And when the storms of life start to howl or the obstacle lands in my path, I can close my eyes and hear her voice say “not quitting” whenever I need it. Thank you, mother.


J.D. Nolen is a physician who expresses his creativity through writing. His book, Unlock Your Creativity, is now available on Amazon. You can follow him via his blog or on Twitter.

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