I was trying to think of a word that perfectly exemplifies motherhood, but how do you wrap up a lifetime of love and commitment and put it into one little word?

But then I stumbled upon the word “nevertheless” somewhere and I knew that was my word.

Nevertheless is a word that means “I hear you, but even so…” or “despite all evidence to the contrary…”

And it seems to me mothers are wonderful at compelling us to move in a certain direction despite the obvious, as in “I know everyone in your fifth grade class is wearing eye shadow, but nevertheless…” or “I know you want to quit the team, but nevertheless…”

It was George Washington’s mother who forbade him to join the military and to take up land surveying instead.

“I know you want to join the Royal Navy,” she said, “but nevertheless, I think there is something more for you out there.”

Call it a mother’s intuition.

And there’s the inspiring story of Wilma Rudolph who was born in 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee. She was the 20th of 22 children, born prematurely at 4.5 pounds and then forced to wear a leg brace for most of her childhood after being stricken with polio. It seemed to be all uphill for Wilma from the moment she was born.

But her mother came from strong stock — a mother who taught her daughter to believe in the power of her own will and she said to her one day, “I know you believe you are disabled, but nevertheless you must learn to walk.”

And that’s what Wilma did.

First she learned to walk and then she learned to run, and before you could utter the words “I can’t” Wilma won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics for track–all in very dramatic fashion. In the 200-yard dash, she was a full three yards ahead of her closest competitor.

In the annals of Olympic stories, Wilma’s is right up there with the best of them. She’d later say, “The doctors told me I’d never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”

The primatologist Jane Goodall had the sort of mother that would tell friends and other naysayers to bugger off when they expressed outrage at the idea of Jane voyaging to Kenya alone to study chimps swinging from trees in the jungle.

“I know you studied to be a secretary,” her mother said, “but nevertheless you must follow this dream.”

In fact, her mother joined her in what is now the country of Tanzania, bunking with her daughter for four months in a tent made of poles and a straw roof.

Imagine, if you will, you and your mother in a tent in the wilds of Africa battling malaria together and dodging leopards and deadly cobras. Goodall’s mother wasn’t just someone who uttered the word “nevertheless,” she actually lived it with her.

I love what the painter Pablo Picasso said about his mother: “She told me if I wanted to be a soldier, I’d be a general. If you become a monk, she said, you’ll end up as the Pope. Instead, I became a painter and ended up Picasso.”

Obviously, his mother had said to him, “All evidence points to you being an ordinary human, but nevertheless you have unlimited potential.”

Then there is the story about a young boy who was born out of wedlock in the foothills of Tennessee. He was chided by people in his town for being fatherless.

One day his mother said to him, “I love you, but nevertheless I am bringing you to an orphanage so you can escape this life of dire poverty.”

He was eventually adopted by his real father, a doctor, and Ben W. Hooper went on to become a lawyer and to serve two terms as governor of Tennessee.

This is the weekend we honor our mothers–those who are still alive and those whom have passed–and recognize the impact they have made in our lives.

They were often the people growing up who told you that even in the face of overwhelming evidence, and no matter what anyone else said, that you were no ordinary person.

Yes, you — bad at math, or unable to sit still, maybe fatherless, or with a leg in a brace … but nevertheless.


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