Ethical Edge

By Russell Williams

Ethical Edge

1977 ~ Virginia Williams

They Came My Way
The Nurturer’s Soil

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle,
curved tunnels of leaf mines on the surface of a leaf. We must somehow take
a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it and
describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail
the right question in the swaddling band of darkness, or,
if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
Anne Dillard

It was 1977.  In January scientists uncovered the unknown bacterium that caused the mysterious Legionnaire’s Disease.  The first woman Episcopal priest was ordained. President Carter pardoned the Vietnam War draft evaders. Fifteen countries including the U.S. and USSR signed a nuclear-proliferation pact.

It was a watershed year in US entertainment as Roots drew a TV audience of 130 million; Star Wars arrived in the theaters; Saturday Night Fever sparked a disco craze; and The King, Elvis Presley, died at his Graceland home in Memphis.

One of the all-time great horses, Seattle Slew won the Kentucky Derby.  Notre Dame went 11-1-0 to capture a National Football Championship and Bjorn Borg outlasted Jimmy Connors in a five set epic battle at Wimbledon.

In science the space shuttle, Enterprise, took its first test voyage on the back of a 747. Lasers were first used to initiate fusion reaction and two Americans won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on computer memories.

It was an early Friday evening in April when dad called.  Judy and I had returned home in Sierra Madre after visiting my mom.  His words were brief, “Please come; mom has died.”  When we arrived at my parents’ residence on Duarte Road in Arcadia, I went upstairs while Judy stayed with my dad.   I remember removing Mom’s earrings and simply spending silent moments with her.  The long, multi-year ordeal was complete. She was free.

As you, my Reader, journey with me in The Nurturer’s Soil, I encourage you to take another thoughtful moment to re-read Anne Dillard’s quote, letting it wash over you so that this reflection may touch some part of your life journey in a unique way.

The Nurturer’s Soil is my message. My mother is the symbol. There is mystery in how the soil of the Nurturer deeply impacts another.  Its mystery is  discovered in a relationship that is organic…below the surface.  The Nurturer’s soil is complex, not fully understood, yet to be embraced, as Dillard states, in its capacity to choir the proper praise.

As a youngster I experienced chronic asthma.  Mom, the Nurturer, was my shelter of protection against constant illness episodes.  In 1st Grade I was out of school for a month.   Somewhere in those early years I learned a fundamental lesson from my mother:  I was weak, inferior.  I became a Mama’s Boy.


By the time I was eight or nine, I noticed how much mom needed “her boy.”  I was responsible and caring to her needs.  Years later, I learned that mom dealt with depression…which was part of her family’s history.  Her most significant episode occurred when I was in upper elementary school.  She experienced a mild nervous breakdown.

As a youngster I had no understanding of my mom’s emotional challenges.   But thirty-plus years later in the early 1990’s I would come to terms dealing with my own chronic melancholy that bordered on mild depression.  I needed help and got it!

Neither my brother, my sister nor I ever fully understood mom’s ups and downs.  What we learned as adults through conversations about our childhood was that each of us experienced mom differently.  For me the fundamental relationship to her was the Dutiful Son who loved his mother.

Parent-Child relationships carry an overriding purpose: The parent, for better or for worse, offers temporary shelter and guidance for learning.  The child uses a parent’s shelter for growth and well being, not for resentment and blame.  This mysterious, concealed life agreement is a bond of hope for light to shine on a child’s path from generation to generation…which leads me to Christmas Eve, 1976, just months before mom’s passing.

Now deeply involved in my emerging professional life in church ministry, Judy and I attended the 11PM Candlelight Service at The Santa Anita Church.

Dad was not sure mom would be able to attend.  She wanted to be there so much. She knew it was her last Christmas with her family. Somehow, mom marshaled her physical will and emotional resources to arrive with Dad to sit in the back of the sanctuary with us.

The service culminated as congregants cued their way to the front of the sanctuary to light their own small candle from the Christmas Candle positioned on the steps leading up to the Altar.  Attendees who sat at the back were the first to come forward up the side aisles.

In the magical mystery of that moment, mom came forward with dad to light her candle and walk down the center aisle. Mom was courageous, committed, and clearly living in the highest purpose her life journey was meant to express.

And me?  Let’s imagine glorious Angels surrounding my awareness,  reminding me of this good woman who came to work in the soil of her life to be a gift giver to me as I expanded my role of the Nurturer helping  others  to till  in the soil of their soul.

On that Christmas Eve mom was rushing toward eternity.  Her son was in the beginnings of a quest to pursue the timeless mystery of God’s embrace.





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