I remember something my mother said that still stands true as a moment that improved my life forever, more so later than even in the third grade. If a third grader can have an epiphany, I think I had one. Only later as a grown and older man would some of the deeper depths of what she said come home to be even more profound.
An epiphany can be a tragic awakening or a wondrous awakening. They can make us run from our hearts’ truths because of their emotional impact or call us to stay with our hearts, come what may.
They can make us go to some place called “away,” and they can call us deeper into the struggle of remaining present, wherever we are. An epiphany can be my father does not like my mother, or my mother does not like my father; people leave and don’t come back; or people die on Sundays, which is God’s day, and it seems like God could at least have perfect control of tragedy one day, especially Sunday.
They can be a cocoon opening and a butterfly unfolding; and seeing how people can open and unfold into who they are created to become; discovering that while love is painful, it is worth all legitimate pain; or grasping in your heart that it really does take a lifetime to learn how to live.
When epiphanies occur, they seem obvious, like they were there all along and suddenly you have eyes to see. Regardless, they affect us. I think the greatest epiphany is love, its staying power, and how it is always present somewhere.
Anyway, back to my mother and me in the third grade. I had said something mean to her. I have no memory of what I said, but I’m certain it was meant to place the sting of a wasp in her heart; I intended to hurt her. I did have enough experience at life to know the pain of a wasp sting and cuts that required stitches. I had forgotten at that moment, of course, that she was the one who gave me ice for wasps’ stings and took me to the doctor to get stitches.
I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the look on her face, and I knew that I had hurt her. She did not tell me that she was doing the best she could do, or insult me back, or punish me. Instead, she said, “This is the first time I have been a mother.” That is it, so simple. I understood. It was the first time I had been a child, too. We were in this whole big, sloppy imperfect place together, so we needed to cooperate and help each other, regardless.
She gave me awareness of herself, and I received awareness of her and me. I found a little mercy and empathy that day, something I think children are especially good at offering. I did not have the sophistication that we gain later to remind her that I was her second child, and that she had already had time to practice. I couldn’t think like that yet. Even if I had thought it, I would not have said it. The truth she told me was what stuck.
We are all going through this life for the first time.