Developing a Character

Recently, I had a chance to read a great story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series for moms which you can find below.

I remember well the day I realized I had a true mother here in the United States, so far from my home in Germany. I had packed the last of the dishes for the move, when she called. Oh no, I thought. I can’t talk to her right now. My heart was bleeding and I had no idea how to start a new life with my six children — without my husband. I was sure Grandma Towne would give me a hard time. After all, I was leaving her only son. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to lose her support and friendship. I had already lost so much. But I did tell her.

“Gary and I have separated. I’m filing for divorce.”

Silence.

“Are you there, Mom?”

“Yes. I don’t know what to say. Are you sure that’s the right thing?”

“I’ve thought and prayed about it. I can’t raise the kids with them knowing about the details of our troubled marriage.” My voice broke.

“It’s all right, Sonja. I understand,” Grandma Towne said. “Do you need any help?”

That caught me by surprise. Mom Towne wasn’t mad or upset. Instead, she offered me help. “Sonja? Don’t think you are divorcing me, too. If there’s anything I can do to help you, I would like that.”

Suddenly the sky wasn’t as dark. I took a deep breath to steady my voice, but tears rolled down my cheeks, anyway. “Oh, Mom …” I said and couldn’t say anything else.

“Why don’t you bring the kids? I can keep them until you have your stuff together.”

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “That would make it so much easier. And … thanks.”

“Everything will turn out okay. The divorce shouldn’t make a difference in our relationship. You’re like my daughter. Your children are my grandchildren, and that can never be taken from us. Go ahead and bring them. I’ll keep them until your summer classes are over.”

And that’s what I did.

Grandma kept the kids at her home in Coloardo, while I finished summer courses at the university.

As time passed, Grandma Towne was always there for me. When the engine in my car exploded, she drove three hours to pick me and the kids up, and helped us find a new car. She came to my graduation and helped me find a good teaching job not too far away. When I got remarried, she embraced my new husband and called him “son”, just like she had taken me in as a daughter so many years ago when I had first married her own son.

The story resonated with me because I have always felt the need of a personal moral compass in our lives. We usually behave with others according to our own judgement of their attitude towards us. This surprises me because we give our own character development in the hands of other people, particularly the ones we dislike or have a disagreement with.

Person X has treated me nicely, so I am going to treat them nicely. Person Y was rude on that occasion and I will be rude to them (or at least ignore them) next time. We can easily spot the absence of our own programmed character here. Instead, the behaviour of other people is continuously programming our course of actions. Where are we in this picture? Probably nowhere.

Compare this with the character of a person like the Grandma of the story above. She has an inner strong character, completely oblivious to what other persons around her are doing or what people in the society usually behave in a similar situation. She just gives her best on every occasion and does not expect anything in return. This is what life’s struggle is all about. One-dimensional improvement of our own character that consistently climbs a little higher each day, rather than judging others’ actions, responding in kind and roaming randomly around as a result.

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