I learned some very good lessons from Mom and Dad, but the best one I ever learned was about six months after Dad died.
Toward the end of my parents’ lives, there were times they really didn’t get along very well. Dad was not active in the Church, and Mom was impatient with him. They seemed to wear on each other’s nerves some of the time. The arguments weren’t really serious, but I always felt pressured to take sides, a position I didn’t like.
Small offenses have a way of growing large when we dwell on them. One of Mom’s common complaints was that Dad splashed toothpaste on the mirror when he brushed his teeth and would never clean it off. It drove her crazy, and she couldn’t let it go. I tried to explain that in the grand scheme of life, toothpaste on the mirror wasn’t a very big thing. She wasn’t mollified. I wished they could get along better, that they could overlook small things and not be so critical of each other and be more forgiving, but that didn’t happen very often.
Dad died in the spring of 1991. It was a time of grief, especially for Mom. She realized after he was gone that she missed him more than she had anticipated. It was lonesome living alone in that big house; her partner of 62 years was gone. She started talking about him more frequently.
As the days turned to weeks and then to months, I visited Mom daily. During one visit her eyes turned watery as she told me of a mistake that she regretted. She reminded me of the toothpaste and how adamant she had been that he was slothful in neglecting to clean up his mess. She had been so angry over such a small thing.
Mom admitted that on the first cleaning day after Dad died, there was toothpaste on the mirror. She cleaned the mirror, but on the second cleaning day, there was more toothpaste on the mirror. The same thing happened on the third and fourth cleaning days as well.
Mom realized that she had blamed Dad for the toothpaste on the mirror for many years, but it had been both of them splashing toothpaste. She felt terrible that for years she had been so upset about such a small thing. She freely admitted that her anger had hurt her much worse than it had affected Dad.
I learned from this experience the need for forgiveness and tolerance in our relationships, and I honestly try to be more forgiving in my own. It seems such a waste of time to fret about small offenses. There are more important things to worry about than toothpaste on the mirror.
Photograph by Craig Dimond, posed by model