Editors note: This column originally was published July 1, 2012.
Every time July rolls around, I think about two things: July is the month my mother was born and the month we celebrate our independence as a nation. Being grateful for my freedom was definitely instilled in me by my parents at an early age. You dont miss what you have until its gone, my mother would always say. And she was so right!
She also taught me all about independence. According to the dictionary, the definition of independence is the state or quality of being free from dependence; exemption from reliance on, or control by others; self-subsistence or maintenance; direction of ones own affairs without interference.
My mother certainly used much more understandable words for me back then and taught by example. Our freedom is precious, Mother said. Dont ever take it for granted! And I havent.
It was always important to my mother for my sister and me to be able to live the lives that we always dreamed about. My parents wanted our lives to be easier and better than theirs. They wanted us to discover things they never had the opportunity to. They wanted us to see things and travel places they never could. They wanted us to take full advantage of life and enjoy every precious moment that it offers.
You live in a free country. You can do or be anything you desire, Mother drilled into our heads at every opportunity. Nothing is holding you back, she said with authority. The sky is the limit!
For that reason, I have always associated my mother with the sky. My mothers personality was definitely as big as the sky and she always took the time to play with us and make us laugh. She would chase us until we were out of breath and tickle us until we begged for mercy.
Sometimes we would make a pretend fort using a quilt, and other times she would place the quilt flat in the grass and we would lie on our backs and stare up at the heavens.
We would play a game where we tried to guess what each fluffy cloud resembled by giving hints. We would watch planes and birds fly over us against the crystal blue sky. We would lie there for what seemed like hours!
Mother also always told me to soar -- and she gave me wings to fly. She used everything in nature as an example.
Once, when I happened upon a nest full of baby birds chirping with their thin necks stretched upward, Mother seized that opportunity to carefully observe them from a distance.
For several weeks, I watched as the mother bird flew in with a plump worm dangling from her beak. The whole nest became a flurry of activity as the mother bird fed her baby birds. I visited them every day after school until one day I was horrified!
I ran into the house to find my mother. The mama bird is pushing all the baby birds out of the nest! I screamed. I dont think theyll be able to fly!
Of course they will, Mark, Mother said, walking with me back out to the nest. Otherwise, she wouldnt do it!
But why? I asked.
Because they are ready to be on their own and fly freely into the blue sky, Mother answered.
I stared at the nest until it was empty; having watched each bird gently pushed from the nest and, after a little bit of uncertain fluttering, fly away just as Mother had said. After it was all over, I looked up at my mother with a disappointed face. Wont they be scared? I asked. No, they will find their own way because they are free, she said as she smiled and led me back to the house.
I never see a feather without thinking of my mother. In fact, sometimes they stop me in my tracks as they float down in front of me. As Im sitting at my computer typing this, in front of me is a business card holder full of my business cards.
Tucked in front of it is a feather that I found. Its been there for as long as I can remember and I get comfort from it when I notice it.
As I was typing, I moved my shoulders around to make sure they werent getting stiff and, in the process, let out a relaxing sigh! At the very moment I was typing the little bird portion of this column, the breath I had exhaled caught the feather and floated it across the desk. I smiled as I though, Its Mother telling me to continue to soar!
If it werent for the month of July, I wouldnt have had my wonderful mother. And if, during the years, people had not fought for my freedom, I wouldnt even have a holiday to celebrate that freedom, much less the chance to chase a dream!
For these things, I am very grateful! So as youre firing up your grills, splashing in a pool or just chilling this Thursday, pause for a moment, close your eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude.
Without those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom and those who taught us to value that same freedom, we wouldnt be able to do any of these things.
More with Mark
Mark and Debra Ballards annual New York City holiday trip is Dec. 5-9. Join the Ballards in the Big Apple at the most amazing time of year for Broadway shows, tours, shopping and more. For details, go to www.markballard.com or call 757-6877 and leave your mailing address to receive the information by postal service.
Check out Marks website, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes, Marks T-shirts, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates.
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