At any given moment, whether it was at breakfast, in the car, walking down the street, or at dinner, my mother and I could talk about service, volunteering, and the whole wide world. My mother found many ways to make it clear that we were citizens of the world, even if I did not have a chance to personally see the whole world up close. She often reminded me that "everyone does not have the same blessings as we do, and because of this, it's our absolute duty to give back." One of her favorite quotes was Marian Wright Edelman's saying "Service is the rent we pay for living." It is a motto that I, too, have adopted because it resonates with me so deeply. As everyone who knows me will agree, I repeat these words more than any other quote, and it remains one of my favorite sayings, a touchstone for how I view my life. As a matter of fact, journalist Soledad O'Brien recently joked that Marian Wright Edelman should start collecting royalties from me based on the number of times I repeat these words as she introduced me at an awards dinner.
Our household wasn't only service oriented; it was also very political. My mother and her friends could always be found discussing and debating local and national issues. What was the new mayor going to do to make people's lives better? Was this new policy good or bad for our neighborhood, our people, our city? Where was our country headed, and what should we all be doing about it? Now when my husband, Chris, and I talk politics at the dinner table, I feel that same connection to my past, and I hope my daughters are learning the same lesson: Family is important, yes, but family doesn't begin and end at the dinner table. We're all part of a larger family, and if any one of us is hurting, then all of us are. If I get there before you do, I am obligated to bore a hole and pull you through— that's what my mother lived, that's what she taught me, and that's what I try to teach my girls.
Now, don't get me wrong. I did not always want to go everyplace my mother wanted to take me. I did not really want to join her at her meditation center no matter how much she tried to convince me that it would help to make me a better person. I can remember my mom had a friend she meditated with and did a lot of service work with who also had a teenage daughter, one of my classmates. Mai and I were very similar. When our mothers went overboard (as we saw it), we were able to hang together and commiserate.