55: Finish It for Me

55: Finish It for Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Finish It for Me

My mother made a brilliant impression upon my childhood life. She shone for me like the evening star.

~Winston Churchill

My husband Jim and I fell in love while we were both in college. We married the same fall he started law school, and I buckled down to finish my undergraduate studies.

A year later, I was determined to find a job with my liberal arts degree, but in a college town the best paying jobs went to graduate students who taught beginning courses while pursuing advanced degrees. I enrolled as a master’s degree student in French literature. My teaching stipend covered our basic living expenses.

Fast-forward two years. Jim had finished law school and was studying for the bar exam. He had a job waiting for him and soon we would move to a nearby city to start our post-college life.

I had completed all my graduate course work and was plodding through the final stages of my thesis, translating and analyzing an obscure medieval French literary work.

That’s when it happened. The French use the elegant word ennui, which covers a multitude of ills: boredom, fatigue, depression, or just plain feeling “stuck.” I could go no further with my thesis. Every day felt like moving through mud. I didn’t want to share my dismal state with Jim; he was totally consumed with bar exam preparations. I knew my friends would dismiss it as a bad case of almost-ready-to-graduate-itis.

I was daydreaming about walking into my thesis advisor’s office and saying “I quit” when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, sweetie, how are things going?”

My mom? How did she know? But then she always seemed to know when I was down, even though she lived half a country away and we didn’t talk that often. My anguish tumbled out.

“I don’t think I can finish my thesis, Mom. I just can’t find the motivation. I doubt if the degree will ever do me any good. I’m ready to settle down and start a family.”

Mom paused. “If you don’t want to finish your degree for yourself, finish it for me.”

Her words went straight to my heart. Mom had been a child of the Great Depression. Even though she was a talented pianist, she had turned down a scholarship to Juilliard to get a full-time job and contribute to the family finances.

She never made it to college. Neither did my dad. They had both told me on numerous occasions how proud of me they were. At that moment I realized how selfish I would be if I didn’t go ahead and finish.

“Okay, Mom,” I sighed. “I’ll do it for you.”

I successfully completed my master’s degree and went on to teach college French and start a family. A few years later, after both kids were in school, I decided to make a career change and found myself back in school for three years to obtain a law degree. Mom was delighted, of course. I sailed along on my own motivation until it was time to study for the bar exam.

The bar exam, I knew from Jim’s experience, was a grueling two days of essay questions with complex legal scenarios. Without passing the bar exam, one cannot be licensed to practice law. It’s the “golden ticket” to being a lawyer, regardless of how many law courses you take.

Studying for the bar exam took up most of the summer. A small group of us met each day and grilled each other, sometimes late into the evening, drinking cup after cup of coffee to stay awake.

As the bar exam date loomed nearer, I felt more and more panicky. “I’ll never be able to remember all this stuff,” I thought. “I don’t know why I ever thought I could be a lawyer. I’ll never find a job at my age, anyway. Why put myself through this misery?”

My anxious mind dredged up every negative message it could think of. I was on the verge of quitting when Mom’s words came floating into my consciousness: “finish it for me.” Those words were my lifeline. I summoned a picture of my mother as a young woman, looking straight at me with her deep brown eyes. She nodded her head as she smiled, and I felt her heart reaching out to mine.

All my anxiety drained away. Two days later, I marched into the examination room with 200 other candidates and began to write. Whenever I faltered, whenever the old negative feelings threatened to take over, I heard Mom whisper “Finish it for me.” Her words magically melted all the fears.

Six weeks later the letter came, informing me that I had passed the bar exam and requesting my presence the following week at the State Supreme Court to be sworn in as a practicing lawyer. Only then did I call Mom and let her know how her words had once again sustained me.

Although Mom’s no longer physically with me, her heartening words—“finish it for me”—continue to inspire me to press on, to accomplish that next goal, whether it’s writing an essay, planning a workshop, or dreaming up a special dessert. Thanks to Mom, I’m up to the challenge!

~Maril Crabtree

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