54: The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

54: The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

No language can express the power, and beauty… of a mother’s love. It shrinks not where man cowers… and… sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star.

~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

I stared straight ahead as trees and houses rushed by, my stomach in knots. I had to tell her, but I didn’t know how she’d react. Tears came to my eyes as I looked at my mother behind the wheel and said, “I don’t want to feel like this anymore.” I was fifteen and it was the first time I’d talked about my depression. She looked back at me with damp eyes and promised, “I’ll do whatever I can to get you the help you need.” We’d fight this together.

A few weeks later, as I entered therapy and started on the lifelong quest of finding myself and escaping depression, my mother handed me a card. Alone in my room, blinking through the tears, I read the two small yellow notepad pages that she’d tucked in the card. Her curved, round handwriting spelled out all the good she saw in me: creativity, talent, a future. “Don’t ever forget how very special you are to me,” she wrote. My mother knows how to speak to my soul in the rhythms that move it.

I don’t know what she thought I’d do with the letter, but I was sentimental and pasted it into my scrapbook, even if I didn’t believe what she’d said. She often repeated her positive words to me, but I’d roll my eyes and think, “Sure. Moms have to say those things, even if they’re not true.”

My depression deepened despite her efforts, and dragged me into addiction. For six months after my eighteenth birthday, I stared at my mother across a circle of metal folding chairs. Some of my family had given up on me during the year of my heroin and cocaine addiction. But no matter how much I sulked or screamed, my mother made the two-hour drive every week, on a work night, to bring me a smile and a hug and her ever-present arsenal of optimism.

During one of her visits for family counseling, my mother gave me another card, this one with golden suns printed on the front. Inside, she reminded me of the things she’d said in her earlier letter. In her calligraphy, she’d written the Serenity Prayer—a favorite in the circles of addiction. I always found the most uplifting part to be what comes after the most popular lines. The part that says it’s not going to be easy, but if you take one step at a time, you’ll get where you’re going. My path was treacherous, but I had my mother by my side, dragging me along and holding me up.

Words were the only thing I had most days in rehab, and I kept my mother’s card tucked into a journal, close by my side. I scribbled plenty of anger and heartbreak and guilt upon my journal pages and discovered the release that comes from writing out emotions. I started to believe my mother’s words—maybe I could be something and do something worthwhile with my life. During my darkest days, she was the sun in my sky, reflecting her light upon me. And I started to see past my despair.

When I celebrated one year drug-free, my mother looked at me with pride in her eyes, and there was another card. The front was blue with gold stars and a colorful image of a sun reaching out its rays to a smiling moon. This image was the perfect representation of that year. We’d come through it, and we were still shining.

I managed to piece my life together as I entered my twenties. I earned my GED, collected a few college degrees, got married, and had a daughter. Even a good life has its moments, though, and I had taken my mother’s advice when she’d said, “Read this list of encouragement from time to time.” I keep the card with the sun, moon, and stars and the letter filled with my mother’s words in my scrapbook on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, in easy reach. It’s a good reminder of where I’ve been and how I got out—with determination and a constant cheerleader by my side.

I’m sure at the time my mother had no idea how important a few sheets of notepad paper filled with encouraging words would be to me. But as a writer, words have always been an integral part of my life. They are the blocks with which I build my worlds. When I started my writing career, I had my walls of hope and confidence repeatedly torn down through rejection. I needed a way to build myself up and keep going in the midst of the negativity that threatened to drag me back to depression. So, I took her list of encouraging words from so many years ago and expanded on it.

I sat at my computer one day after facing a particularly difficult round of criticism. I’d already whined and wallowed in self-pity and given up ten times in my head. Something had to change. The yellow notepad pages from so many years ago returned to me, along with my mother’s constant words: “You can do this!” My fingers hit the keys and I created a new document file. This time, I pasted words of praise in black letters on a glowing white screen.

My “Pick Me Up File” can be accessed from my computer, phone, or any device that will connect to the Internet. With just a few taps or clicks, whether I’m sitting at home or in line at the grocery store, I’ll find words of inspiration and positivity from friends, family, colleagues, and even a few strangers. These words are an echo of the letter my mother wrote me two decades ago. Days when I feel down or think I should give up, I pray and read the words that remind me that I am neither worthless, nor hopeless, nor talentless, and that my dreams will come true.

In everything I put her through, my mother never gave up on me. And no matter how dim the stars or how far from my reach, my mother adds rungs of encouragement to my ladder to make the climb easier. She’s the one who said from the start that a degree in creative writing made complete sense, when it seemed pointless to everyone else. She never stopped believing in me and I know she never will. She has been my loudest cheerleader through every hurdle, no matter how large the crowd that booed me.

When I had my first short story published, she wasn’t surprised. “You’re on your way. You’re just getting started,” she said. I signed a copy for her and wrote, “To my mother: My first inscription, on my first publication, to my first fan.” My dream had come true and rested in my hands. But then, according to my mother, the stars were never out of my reach.

~Denise Drespling

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