i’d always thought the world was a wish-granting factory

My mom once told me that God rewarded those people who were good. I don’t remember the context—it could’ve been a warning to behave in church, or a reason to get me to stop fighting with my brother. In fact, I haven’t thought about those words of hovering warning in many years, but today, sitting in a new doctor’s office with my ever-resilient mother flipping noncommittally through a magazine next to me, those words were the first to come to me. “God rewards those who are good.”

Hours later, we’re sitting in Mom’s living room, the soft glow of a single lamp lights her tired features as she recounts the doctor’s diagnosis to her childhood friend. I bite the inside of my cheek and watch my mother for signs of distress. Outwardly, there are non. But subtle things—the tightness around her eyes, the purse of her lips, the worrying of her fingers on the frayed edge of the quilt draped across her lap—give away her unease. Perhaps, her agitation. Mom excuses herself a few minutes later and her old friend turns her attention to me.

“Have you been praying, Blair?” she wants to know. “Have you been asking for help and guidance and daily forgiveness?” Immediately I hear my mom’s words from so many years ago—God rewards those who are good.

I’ve never known anyone as inherently good as my mother. Kind and giving, unable to wish bad upon others, no matter how much they deserve it. My brother and I give her a hard time about it often. Shouldn’t you swear a little more, drink a little more, hold a grudge a little longer? Not Mom. She is far too good for that. So where is her reward?

“Well young lady?” her friend presses. “Have you been asking God to get you all through this?”

I don’t know how to answer her so I simply sit in silence, watching rain drops pelt the window. One question slithers its way in and out of my consciousness, taunting me and daring me to acknowledge what has been lingering in the back of my mind for months: Is all of this my fault?

If I had prayed more, questioned faith less, if I could take back every fib that ever left my mouth, every insult I let slip, if I actually made it to church more Sunday mornings than Easter, if I didn’t decide to live with my fiance before I married him, if I didn’t always drink one glass of wine too many, if I was good … Could I have kept this from happening?

Mom’s old friend won’t settle for my silence—she’s known me too long to buy it or tolerate it—so I finally turn to her and offer the only truth I can come up with. “I don’t know what I’m asking for or who I’m asking it of.”

It isn’t the answer she wants and its written all over her face. A little while later when she’s wishing us goodnight and giving my mother he love, she pulls me tight to her chest and says, “Everything happens for a reason, Blair. There is something to be learned from every experience. You just have to discover what it is.”

Mom and I watch the Olympics alone on the couch tonight. She tries to push me out the door, telling me to go home to my husband, but I won’t budge. Maybe it is a sense of obligation, maybe it is guilt. Maybe I just need my mom tonight.

“You don’t love me less because you live more, you know,” she says. And my chest aches with the certainty and conviction in her voice.

She laughs as I throw peanuts at the television and critique the ice dancers. She smiles when our 12-year-old, arthritic Collie makes an effort to get up from her bed just to chase down the stray peanuts laying around the floor. She giggles when I catch her flipping channels to The Bachelor when I duck out of the room for less than a breath. Love and joy are not just things reserved for the well.

Maybe there isn’t anything to learn from this experience. Maybe I’m only meant to love my mother more, to hold our time together more dear. Sick people don’t exist so that healthy people can learn lessons. And I can’t stand to believe that any god would punish a mother for the sins of a child. Especially not my mother. Because God rewards those who are good.

It must be true—my mother told me so.

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