When I was about twelve, some of my mother’s extraordinary qualities became apparent to me in a very powerful way. I was a growing lad who had a cooked breakfast every morning before going off to school and would come back in the late afternoon and then eat cream doughnuts for tea and an hour later scarf down huge amounts of food at supper. I was turning into a burly youth.
And every afternoon my mother waited in her car at the bus stop at the end of the lane, a mile away from our home. One day I got off the bus and she wasn’t there. I thought, “That’s strange.” And I walked—I thought maybe she was a bit late—and walked and walked but she didn’t appear. I got all the way back to the house and she wasn’t there either. When my sisters returned from school, we found out that our mother had collapsed and been hospitalized; she was found to be suffering from malnutrition.
For months she’d been living only on tea and toast. None of us had noticed— because we’d all been so busy gobbling our meals—that she’d been trying to make the food go a bit further by not eating. She’d never made a fuss, never said anything. And the next we knew she was in the hospital.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that she would actually starve herself while feeding all of us and not complain. And when we went to visit her in the hospital, she apologized as if she were wasting our time! After all, we could have been doing our homework or out somewhere enjoying ourselves.
I think that was the first time I became aware of the kind of qualities she had and tried to be more alert to the possibilities of following her extremely powerful and noble example.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, Who Will Feed the Mice, (pdf) pp. 15-17.